SAN ANTONIO – The statistics — 31 points on 15 shots, five rebounds and three assists — still undersell the extent to which Donte DiVincenzo was Villanova's fulcrum in this year's NCAA title game.
The team's sixth man, he was the one who stopped the bleeding Monday night after Michigan surprised the 67,831 spectators in the Alamodome and millions more watching on television who had expected a fairly easy victory by Villanova, the top seed.
Before DiVincenzo scored his first basket, Michigan led 14-8. Villanova's next eight points were DiVincenzo's: a three-pointer, a three-point play, a jump shot. He responded to ball screens by hitting long threes from where he was standing or, once, finding Omari Spellman down low on a brilliant bounce pass.
On defense, during one stretch he forced a driving Zavier Simpson into a miss and then, on the next possession, the 6-5 DiVincenzo straight-up blocked an attempted dunk by Charles Matthews.
At one point, after back-to-back three-pointers, DiVincenzo winked at the crowd. He later said he was aiming for former Wildcat Josh Hart, now with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Wildcats would go on to win 79-62.
It would be easy to characterize DiVincenzo as an overachieving diamond in the rough who thrived in coach Jay Wright's system. The story sounds great, but it doesn't check out. DiVincenzo was a four-star recruit who had offers from Florida, Notre Dame, Syracuse and elsewhere.
The Villanova innovation, rather, is to have a talent like DiVincenzo, as a redshirt sophomore, come off the bench.
"All he wants to do is play," said DiVincenzo's mother, Kathy, as she watched him being named the Final Four's most outstanding player. "He doesn't care if he starts."
What makes Villanova the class of college basketball — two championships in the past three years — is this model of sustainable success, with players who could be the center of attention at other big programs sacrificing to play for the Wildcats.
"Understanding being part of something bigger than himself allows him to give us a guy who is a starter off the bench," assistant coach George Halcovage said of DiVincenzo.
But there is still the matter of persuading top players to head for Philadelphia's suburbs with the knowledge that they may enter this complex chart and be stashed away while a veteran gives Villanova his best basketball. The key here might be a popular motto of Wright's, which he echoed in a tweet early Tuesday: "We play for those who came before us."
The line is that curious combination of robotic and sentimental that tends to define many things that coaches and players say. The fact is, those sayings the layperson rolls his eyes at are often the ones the coaches and players imbibe with utmost earnestness. These guys really do take it one game at a time; they really do believe there is no "I" in "team."
And so under Wright, Villanova's players have come to see themselves as part of a continuum competing under the Villanova banner, stretching back to the past and into the future.