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Good Things Come in (Lots of) Threes; Final Four Recap (National Semifinals)

Robert Cole/ALOST

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

 

SAN ANTONIO — The Villanova men’s basketball team is not out to just break records; They have dome its fair share of that over the past few seasons of dominance and championship runs. Its mission now is to set the bar so high that it will be impossible not to remember this core group of players as one of the best to ever put on a college basketball uniform.

The Wildcats are one step closer to immortality after a dominating 95-79 win over the Kansas Jayhawks in one national semifinal game at the Final Four in San Antonio. Six players scored in double figures as Villanova made 18 three-pointers in the contest, easily breaking the record for most three-point makes in a Final Four game. Of those 18 threes, the Wildcats made 13 of those in the first half as the Wildcats opened up scoring 22 of the game’s first 26 points.

“Well, that was just one of those nights. Man, we made every shot to start the game,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “And when you do that, you get up 22-4, if you’re a decent free-throw shooting team it’s tough to come back on that. Actually, it’s happened to us. I feel bad for Kansas. They’re a great team; we just made every shot. And that happens sometimes. And you just can’t depend on that.”

To the contrary, Villanova has relied on its three-point prowess throughout the tournament, and tonight’s long-range barrage started early. After Udoka Azubuike scored on Kansas’s first possession for a 2-0 Jayhawks lead, the Wildcats got threes from Eric Paschall, Mikal Bridges and Omari Spellman to open up a 9-2 lead and forcing Kansas into a timeout.

It only got worse for the Jayhawks as Villanova eventually opened up a 22-4 lead on a Collin Gillespie three just 6:56 into the contest.

“I just think we did a good job being ready to catch and shoot,” said Villanova guard and National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson, who scored 18 points and had six assists. “Everyone was making plays for each other. We were all ready to catch and shoot. And like Coach said, it was one of those nights where we were able to make shots. And that’s what the lead looks like.”

At the end of the first half, Villanova had already tied the Final Four record of most threes made in a game, hitting 13 of their 26 attempts from beyond the arc in the game’s first 20 minutes. Forward Eric Paschall led the Wildcats with 24 points, while fellow forward Omari Spellman finished the game with 15 points and 13 rebounds.

“As good a team as I’ve played against that I can remember,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said. “We got spread out on defense. The game plan went to crap. You get caught in between on defense, and it’s the worst thing you can do.”

Kansas went on a 7-0 run to cut Villanova’s lead to 22-11, but the Wildcats’ lead never dipped below double digits after the game’s initial spurt.

Paschall also went on a personal assault at the Final Four record book, as he finished the game 10-for-11 from the field, the second-most accurate shooting performance in a Final Four game; Only Bill Walton’s legendary 21-for-22 game for UCLA in the 1973 national championship game against Memphis State stands as a greater shooting performance from the field in a Final Four game. Paschall hit four of his five three-point attempts, and how has hit 14 of his last 26 threes (54 percent) over his last nine games.

“Just working with the coaches. Just them staying in the gym as well,” Paschall said when asked about his improved three-point shooting. “They did a great job of just staying with me, knowing that I was struggling. And I didn’t really think about it. If I don’t make shots I know I’m able to play defensive and rebound for my teammates. I just stayed in the gym, but it really wasn’t a big thought.”

Defense also was a key to the Wildcats’ victory, not allowing Kansas to really get untracked offensively. In his last collegiate game, senior guard Devonte’ Graham led the Jayhawks with 23 points, while fellow guard Malik Newman had 21 points and eight rebounds. Another senior guard, Svi Mykhailiuk, was the only other player for Kansas who scored in double figures as he put up 10 points.

“It’s tough. It’s tough, especially when most of the points come from the 3-point line,” said Newman. “You feel like you don’t really give yourself a chance to win. You put yourself in a deep hole. And it’s hard to climb out of it.”

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