SAN ANTONIO – Villanova isn’t considered a blue blood in the traditional sense, but that might have to change.
The Wildcats cut down the nets for the second time in three years Monday, which no team had done in that short of a window since Florida’s back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007.
Winning it all, though, that’s something that eluded the Big Ten for another year, 19 straight now, after Villanova’s 79-62 victory against third-seeded Michigan in front of 67,831 at the Alamodome.
The Wildcats (36-4) set a school record for wins and reminded the nation they were arguably the best team in the country all season, becoming the first since North Carolina in 2009 to win all six NCAA tournament games by double digits. Theirs was a 17-point average margin.
“I really can’t put my mind around it,” coach Jay Wright said about his second national championship. “I never dreamt of this. We just took it one game at a time. I thought we played our best game in the championship game.”
Wright didn’t have to sweat out the final seconds of any March Madness game this year, not like he did watching Kris Jenkins sink the buzzer-beater against North Carolina for his last title in 2016.
The hero on Monday was sophomore Donte DiVicenzo, who scored 18 of his career-high 31 points in the first half. Wildcats fans chanting his name in San Antonio and those cheering back home will surely never forget his performance, much like Jenkins’ shot became legendary.
“This team, we’re so close,” DiVicenzo said “To experience this with these guys, it’s a dream come true.”
The Wolverines (33-8), who also finished national runner-up in 2013, couldn’t end the Big Ten’s title drought that goes back to Michigan State’s crown in 2000. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led Michigan with 23 points. Moe Wagner was held to five of his 16 points in the second half.
The game didn’t start as one-sided as it ended. The Wildcats had to overcome poor shooting in the first half from three-point range, which was the complete opposite of their record-setting performance in Saturday’s 95-79 win against Kansas, when they made 13 of their first 18 threes.
Villanova used a 23-7 run to take a 37-28 halftime advantage. National player of the year Jalen Brunson (nine points on 4-for-13 shooting) struggled against the size and physical play of the Wolverines, but DiVincenzo had outscored Michigan’s entire team at one point in the first half.
Wagner, who had 24 points and 15 rebounds in Saturday’s win against Loyola Chicago, drove past his defender for a layup and his 11th point for a 21-14 early lead. But the 6-11 junior was held scoreless in the last 11 minutes going into intermission.
Michigan dominated the offensive glass against Loyola, but it had only seven second-chance points Monday. Meanwhile, the Wildcats overcame 4-for-13 shooting from long distance in the first half by owning the boards. They finished with a 38-27 rebounding edge in the game.
Comparisons to Villanova’s national title team two years ago were legitimate with Wright having a team that could overcome shooting spells with stingy defense. But these Wildcats were one of the best offensive teams in program history, setting an NCAA single-season record with 464 threes.
Eric Paschall was the hot hand in the win vs. Kansas with 24 points, but he didn’t score Monday until getting five straight points to open the second half. His reverse layup gave Villanova a 44-30 lead less than two minutes into the period.
Wagner tried to get himself going with a drive and dunk at 15:24, but he was called for pushing off. As he walked away from the play, he made contact with Omari Spellman. Both players received technicals and their third fouls for jawing, but the momentum was still heavily in Villanova’s favor.
After a slow start, Mikal Bridges drilled a three-pointer from the corner to extend the Wildcats’ lead to 51-33. Bridges finished with 19 points.
Michigan overcame a 10-point second-half deficit in Saturday’s win against Loyola Chicago, but John Beilein’s Wolverines couldn’t score enough against the Big East power.
“Everybody talks about their offense,” Beilein said, “but I think that’s what’s really underrated is how good they are defensively.”