CRAWFORD | A street fight on Main: Villanova subdues Kansas to r - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | A street fight on Main: Villanova subdues Kansas to reach Final Four

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Villanova players celebrate after knocking off Kansas to reach the Final Four. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) Villanova players celebrate after knocking off Kansas to reach the Final Four. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — This was an Excedrin PM special. The tension never broke. It was 40 minutes of awkward.

When Kansas and Villanova went at each other in Saturday’s South Region final in the KFC Yum! Center, there were no comfort zones. 

There were inexplicable airball three-pointers. There was inconvenient foul trouble. You could probably count the clean looks either team got on your hands. This game had as much rhythm as Charles Barkley singing One Shining Moment. This was one nervous moment.

In a matchup of top 10 offenses AND defenses, the defense never rested. Had it been a legal battle, there would’ve been an objection every three minutes.

In the end, Villanova’s defense was better. It made bigger plays. It created more turnovers — which were the difference in the game. The Wildcats subdued Kansas 64-59 to brush off back-to-back years of second-round exits and push through to the program’s third Final Four and first since 2009.

“We wanted to make it a street fight,” Villanova guard Ryan Arciadiacono said after the game. “We wanted to make it an ugly game. . . . The backbone of our program is defend and rebound and play hard. Once the final buzzer went off and we were winning, it was beautiful.”

Kansas shot a better percentage, won the rebounding battle, had more assists, made more three-pointers, scored more points in the paint and had a significant advantage in support among the 19,422 in the KFC Yum! Center. But Villanova knocked off the tournament's No. 1 overall seed with defense in the most important moments.

“That Kansas team is a national-championship caliber team,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “They made every, single correct play down the stretch. They hit the three. They got the layup. They fouled the right guys. We made the foul shots. They kept coming until we got a steal at the end. That’s a great team. Never went away, made every right play.”

Villanova had two big defensive runs. In the first half, it held Kansas without a field goal for a six minute stretch of the first half. In fact, it allowed only two shots during that whole stretch, while forcing eight Kansas turnovers. That allowed The Wildcats to grab a nine-point lead and take a 32-25 lead to the break.

Bill Self countered with a full-court press to start the second half, got two quick baskets to cut the Kansas deficit to three, and neither team led by more than two possessions the rest of the game.

Kansas led by five with 10:50 left and Villanova in foul trouble. But the Wildcats pounded the ball inside for a pair of scores that cut it to 45-44, then got back-to-back threes by Arcidiacono and Josh Hart to take a five-point lead and stabilize things.

From then on, it was punch-counterpunch. Mikal Bridges deflected a ball away from Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham with 33 seconds left, and trying to corral the loose ball, Graham dived on the floor and hit Hart in the knees. Graham was called for his fifth foul.

Over the next 33 seconds, Villanova would go 8-8 from the line. Kansas would make a three, and a layup, before Bridges got another steal with four seconds left and the Wildcats up only three. Two Jalen Brunson free throws sealed the win.

Villanova held talented Kansas forward Perry Ellis to just 4 points on 1-5 shooting. But the Jayhawks committed 16 turnovers to Villanova’s 9, and were outscored 13-6 off turnovers. They were outscored 18-7 at the free-throw line, but eight of those came in the final 35 seconds.

“I’ve been involved in, I think, eight of these, and only won two of them,” Self said. “And it’s without question the hardest game in the tournament to lose. Our kids and our seniors have done an unbelievable job putting us in position to be in the game, in the moment. I’d much rather be in the game than not in the game. Sometimes you just come up short. . . . I think that the basket shrunk a little bit for us. . . . But it came down to them making free throws and it came down to a couple of loose balls, and that was the difference.”

Graham finished with 17 for Kansas. Frank Mason III added 16, as did Wayne Selden Jr.

Villanova got 13 points each from Jenkins, Hart and Arcidiacono and 10 from Daniel Ochefu.

In the final seconds, as Brunson shot Villanova’s last free-throws, several Wildcats players shed some tears, even on the court. They embraced Wright. When he walked into the locker room after a CBS interview, they ambushed him with water bottles and soaked him.

“I wear it as a badge of honor,” Wright said as he smiled.

This team Wright has is a push-button group. To sit behind him and watch them operate, at times, they’ll all glance at him at once, he’ll speak some kind of play, and it’ll be run, perfectly. They communicate with each other. When they got the assignment of shutting down Ellis, no one player did it, they all did.

The team can adapt to any style. It can handle a street-fight — which may well come in handy in a cavernous Houston dome that produced ugly games the last time the Final Four was there.

After the game, Wright said he was happy for his players.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world to see these guys get to that point where everyone else sees that they’re as good as we see they can be,” Wright said. “And that they see. I could tell in the locker room, they had more fun soaking me, they were having fun with that. But after that, it was a real sense of accomplishment, and I think they felt really good about themselves individually. And that’s the greatest thing that you can experience as a coach.”

Unless, of course, they can do that two more times.

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