SAN ANTONIO – Even before the record-setting three-point barrage Saturday, Villanova established its physical dominance early.
With his team already up double digits on Kansas less than five minutes into the game, Eric Paschall sent light blue-and-white-clad Nova fans leaping from their Alamodome seats after an emphatic putback slam.
The biggest statement first came at the rim.
Paschall and frontcourt mate Omari Spellman combined for 11 of their team’s first 16 points. It didn’t seem fair then once the Wildcats tied the Final Four record for most threes in a game with 13 — at halftime.
A lead that swelled to 18 points in the first half only got bigger from there. Behind a record 18 three-pointers, the Wildcats got a step closer to their second national title in three years with a 95-79 victory over the Jayhawks.
Paschall finished with 24 points on 10-for-11 shooting, while Spellman had 15 points and 13 rebounds for Villanova (35-4), which will try to match NCAA title runs in 2016 and 1985.
“I feel bad for Kansas,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “They’re a great team; we just made every shot. And that happens sometimes.”
An NCAA tournament that was arguably the most chaotic ever had some normalcy restored when two No. 1 seeds reached the Final Four from the East and Midwest Regions.
Even the casual college basketball fan likely expected Kansas-Villanova to be a better game than even Monday’s final would be. Loyola Chicago didn’t beat Michigan, so two power conference teams will decide it all. But it’s hard to believe these Wildcats can be stopped.
Comparisons to Villanova’s 2016 championship team are valid, but this 2018 team is such a juggernaut offensively, you can overlook what it does on the other end of the floor. Wright’s 2016 team is remembered for the winning three-pointer by Kris Jenkins against North Carolina, but it definitely prided itself on lockdown D.
“Playing team defense, that’s what we pride ourselves on,” Paschall said. “Playing 40 minutes of Villanova basketball.”
Kansas (31-8) was the best three-point shooting percentage team left in the NCAA tournament (40.3 percent), but it got schooled from long range by a team that shoots a lot more.
The Wildcats made 44 threes in their NCAA tournament wins over Radford, Alabama and West Virginia. They shot only 4-for-24 from distance in the Elite Eight vs. Texas Tech, but they used a 20-rebound advantage to still pull off a convincing 12-point victory.
They proved they don’t need to shoot well to win. The Cats can be lights out when they want to, though.
“I just think we did a good job of being ready to catch and shoot,” junior Jalen Brunson said. “Everyone was making plays for each other.”
In the first half, Donte DiVincenzo and Paschall nailed consecutive three-pointers to give Villanova a 22-4 lead at the 13-minute mark. At halftime, the Wildcats led 47-32 behind 13-for-26 shooting from beyond the arc.
Kansas 7-footer Udoka Azubuike struggled to get out to Villanova’s outside-shooting big men. Azubuike had a huge block to start the second half, but Paschall grabbed the offensive rebound and nailed a jumper for a 50-34 lead, summing up the night.
Brunson and fellow Wildcats All-America Mikal Bridges were outscored 44-28 by Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman. But Brunson and Bridges didn’t have to outshine their Jayhawks counterparts, since Villanova had lots of help from its supporting cast in shooting 55 percent from the floor.
“I’m not going to think sour about this at all,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “The way Villanova played, we would have had to play a perfect basketball game in order to put ourselves in a position to win.”