Jalen Brunson shoots one of Villanova?s 26 three-pointers in the first half of the Wildcats? matchup with Kansas at the Final Four Saturday. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO ? In a world of basketball boxscores that range from exhilarations to eyesores, the half of the sheet that told that statistical story of Villanova on Saturday night looked like some sort of hoop daydream. Accompaniment with classical music would not have seemed extravagant. Maybe they should have painted that half instead of typing it.
Here in the 21st century of perimeter ball movement and long-arc shooting, this bodacious box told how an Alamodome crowd of 68,257 had witnessed a state-of-the-art exhibit in the second semifinal of the Final Four. By the time the numbers took a break from churning for halftime, seven Villanova players had made three-point shots.
By early in the second half of the Wildcats? 95-79 deluge of a perfectly fine Kansas team, the tally of three-point shots had reached 17. The 31-year-old record for Final Four three-point shots in a game, the 13 by Nevada-Las Vegas in 1987, had gotten sorely outdistanced even if nobody would make 10 as did the Rebels? Freddie Banks. The 28-year-old record for NCAA tournament three-point shots, the 21 by Loyola Marymount in 1990 against Michigan, began a rare tremble.
It would hold on against Villanova?s 18-for-40, but as the Wildcats (35-4) went romping into a second national-title game in three years, this time against Michigan, it was not so much the accuracy of the threes that impressed. It was the efficiency that left the shooters often gapingly open to take them. It was the nation?s most efficient offense, at 86.6 points per game, operating at a level in the clouds.
It was hotness, but more so basketball know-how ? high skill matched with tiptop ball-sharing.
The game began. Eric Paschall drilled one at 18:38. Mikal Bridges had one at 17:55. Omari Spellman, the 6-foot-9, 245-pound freshman, stood left of the top and launched one at 17:15. The score stood at 9-2. Spellman got another at 16:00. Donte DiVincenzo rained one at 14:14. Paschall, under the basket, passed to the right corner to Collin Gillespie, who smashed one down at 13:06. The score stood at 22-4.
The team that made a near-NCAA record 436 three-point shots the season looked like it might have found even that number insufficient. Paschall, again, at 10:17. Man, look at that box score. Phil Booth, getting in the action, at 9:42. How long can this go on? Bridges, again, at 8:45. Wait, when will Jalen Brunson get a turn?
The score stood at 31-15.
Of course, as nutty as it sounds, when the game reached halftime and Kansas perhaps found that fact helpful, Brunson, the national player of the year, actually led the three-point brigade. He had 3-for-6, to Paschall?s 2-for-2, to Bridges? 2-for-4 and Booth?s 2-for-4 and Spellman?s 2-for-6, and then Gillespie (1-for-2), and then DiVincenzo (1-for-2). The team had 13-for-26. It had only four two-point goals. It was mastery by the three-point cuts that have marked the sport in the era.
The half of the box sang.
The score stood at 47-32.
Two years ago, a different Villanova team had a lead smaller than that (42-28) at halftime in a Final Four in the state of Texas against a Big 12 team. The 95-51 score against Oklahoma that ensued became the profoundest romp in all the Final Fours.
Kansas (32-8) would not suffer quite that. It had Devonte? Graham, the consensus all-American (23 points, three assists), and it had the March-hot Malik Newman (21 points, eight rebounds). It had a Big 12 regular-season champion, a Big 12 tournament champion and a team tough enough to outlast Duke and quell an Elite Eight bugaboo. It would whittle the lead to 14 (71-57) with 9:22 left.
But it would suffer all the same. Brunson would get 18 points with six assists, Spellman 15 with 13 rebounds, Paschall 24 points, DiVincenzo 15, Booth 10, Bridges 10. Offense matters, and here came offense by brilliant committee. By the time the game reached the final four minutes, it had distilled into that foregone-conclusion way of press-beating breakaways and possessions purposely extended to hurry up things.
Besides, the threes had kept pouring early in the second half, from Paschall, from DiVincenzo, from Spellman. On a play in the first minute after halftime, the shot clock wound down, Kansas giant
Udoka Azubuike made a compelling block on Booth?s drive.
The ball flew out to the perimeter. Spellman collected it. The shot clock neared its buzzer. There was no time to concoct a play. So Spellman, open, shot. It, too, swished. ? Chuck Culpepper
Three-point shooting too much for Jayhawks
Villanova set a new Final Four record with 18 three-pointers made in a 96-79 rout of Kansas to reach Monday night?s national semifinal against Michigan.?The Wildcats made 13 three-pointers in the first half alone, which tied the Final Four record set by UNLV in 1989.
The barrage include multiple three pointers from each of Villanova?s five starters, including four from Eric Paschall (24 points on 10-for-11 shooting) and three apiece from Jalen Brunson and Omari Spellman, the latter of whom sprinkled in a nasty second half block that brought former Villanova national championship hero Kris Jenkins to his feet in San Antonio.
Villanova has a chance to do what Jenkins did two springs ago and deliver another national championship on Monday night, where it will likely be a favorite against Michigan.
Paschall, who finished with 24 points on 10-for-11 shooting, hit a three-pointer in the first half to shatter the Division I single season record for three-pointers made in a season, which was previously 436 by VMI in 2006-2007, per ESPN.
? Roman Stubbs
Wildcats set the three-point line on fire in blistering first half
Villanova is off to a blistering start in San Antonio, already tying an NCAA record for three-pointers in a Final Four game after hitting 13 in the first half to build a 47-32 lead over Kansas.
UNLV hit 13 in a Final Four game in 1987.
Villanova still has 20 minutes and a realistic chance at cracking the NCAA Tournament?s all-time single game mark of 21 three-pointers made by Loyola Marymount in 1990.
Overall, Villanova is 13-for-26 from three-point range, and just 4-for-7 on two-pointers. Every starter ? Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Eric Paschall, Omari Spellman and Mikal Bridges ? has hit multiple three-pointers in the first half, with Brunson leading the way on 3-for-5 shooting. ? Roman Stubbs
SAN ANTONIO ? The adage that college basketball games in March and April hinge on guard play in this young 21st century will find another of its pinnacles Saturday evening in the second game, when Villanova and Kansas each send out consensus all-American point guards who combined for 7,746 college minutes, 223 starts, 2,385 field goal attempts (46 percent made), 1,152 three-point shots (40.3 percent made) and, as important as all of it, 1,053 assists.
If it comes to free throws, as it can, Jalen Brunson and Devonte? Graham have taken 860 of those. They have made 692.
For connoisseurs of guard play, guard-play intellectuals and maybe even the sporadically curious, it should stand as a treat and an emblem of a sport that, over time, ventured out onto its perimeter. Kansas Coach Bill Self confessed that, even while coaching his team, he won?t mind gazing out that way a bit.
?You know, the thing that makes both, at least in my eyes, that makes both Jalen and Devonte? so good is they?re terrific players, but their intangibles are even better than their abilities,? Self said. ?It will be a chess match with both of them. Jalen obviously can do a lot more than play point. He can be a lead guard, but he?s also an unbelievable, efficient offensive player. And he may be, probably is, their best post-up player as well. That?s different than we?re used to.
?Devonte? has to guard Trae [Young of Oklahoma] and Jevon [Carter of West Virginia] and Keenan [Evans of Texas Tech], which are all-American-type guards, but we?ve never had to guard one as diverse and skilled in so many areas as what Jalen is. It will be a great matchup. Even though we switch a lot and they do, too, I hope they?re matched against each other quite a bit because I think it will be fun for people to see that and certainly fun as to coach to it.?
All coaches are different, so Villanova?s Jay Wright planned to avoid looking while acknowledging the temptation.
?You know, I really try not to think about those types of things,? Wright said. ?And I really don?t think I would enjoy any matchup against Devonte? Graham, really would have fun with it . . . He?s a difficult matchup. And you can put a smaller guy on him like Jalen, but I think he?s got the ability to shoot over someone close to his size. And you put a bigger guy on him, he?s got the quickness to go by him. So I wouldn?t say I look at it exactly like Bill.?
He later said, ?And it?s tempting when everyone is talking to you about the matchup, when you?re the player they?re talking about, it?s just tempting for it to get in your head. I don?t think he?s let it.?
Everyone else is, of course, free to eyeball the potential feast.
There will be Brunson, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard who came out of Lincolnshire, Ill., as Rivals.com?s 20th-ranked player in 2015, and Graham, the 6-2, 185-pound point guard who came out of Raleigh, N.C., by way of New Hampshire, as the 36th-ranked player in 2014. On Friday, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association named Brunson its national player of the year, which Graham found ?well-deserved.?
Atop even his 19 points per game, his 4.8 assists, his 41.4 percent shooting from three-point range and his uncommon post play, Brunson got further hosannas from Oscar Robertson, the award?s namesake. ?It means someone who really understands basketball,? Robertson said. ?I think that a guard like Jalen controls the game. I played guard and I know what it takes. I know how you speed things up, slow things down. You get your team set for the offense. When they?re all out of proportion, they?re running all over the court, boom, you go out and settle own. They watch you. And to see what you can do. If you don?t get upset, you stay cool, they?re going to do the same thing. So Jalen has done that this season.?
Said Brunson: ?One of my favorite players of all time is Steve Nash, for sure. And I guess in today?s basketball, I love Chris Paul, the way he plays. Those are my idols just because they?re not, like, overly athletic. They?re not going to wow you with eye-popping athleticism or quickness or whatever like that, but they lead their team, they get the job done. And they?re very smart and use their talents and just their IQ to just get things done. And I really admire that. I really watched the way they played.?
While Brunson?s packed three-season tenure glows with two previous Final Four games ? both in 2016, when he played 21 and 22 minutes, scoring eight and four points with two assists all told ? the emotion here tilts toward Graham. A smart, likable sort, he, along with Kansas, had gone home at the harshest round the previous two seasons, with regional final losses to Villanova in 2016 and Oregon in 2017.
Those accentuated a long trail to here for a man already 23, who couldn?t get a release from an early commitment to Appalachian State, so spent an extra high school season playing at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. He has built his way here while steadily coming to view himself as viable, then more than viable. ?I mean, I think it started probably once I got to Brewster,? he said. ?And I think a lot of my confidence went up and Coach Self believing in me once I got here to Kansas, probably toward the end of my freshman year is when I really started to believe that I could do something special here at Kansas.?
In that game against Villanova in Louisville, in 2016, he scored 17 points on 5-for-9 three-point shooting in 35 minutes, adding seven rebounds, if no assists. Brunson played 22 minutes and went 2 for 6 with seven points and no assists. Villanova went through by 64-59. Kansas went home.
They?re back and back together, and a lot of know-how has piled up since then.
Series history:?The schools have played six times, including twice in the last five seasons. Villanova won both those games by nearly identical scores: 64-59 two years ago in the Elite Eight, and 63-59 in the 2013-14 regular season. The teams are 3-3 head-to-head all time.
Fast facts:?Villanova is in its sixth Final Four, and second in three seasons ? The Wildcats would tie the school?s single-season wins record by beating Kansas ? The Wildcats need just six made three-pointers to tie the NCAA?s single-season record, set by VMI in 2007 ? Jalen Brunson is the first Villanova player to score at least 700 points in a season since Kerry Kittles in 1994-95 ? Coach Jay Wright is the school?s all-time leader in wins, and has a 25-11 NCAA tournament record at Villanova. ? Kansas is in its 15th Final Four, and third under Coach Bill Self ? Kansas now has 15 seasons with at least 30 wins, tied for the most in NCAA history with Kentucky ? The Jayhawks have a 9-5 all-time record in national semifinals ? Guard Malik Newman is averaging a team-high 21.8 points in the NCAA tournament, and was the Big 12 tournament MVP after averaging 28 points per game ? Senior guard Devonte? Graham averages 17.2 points and 7.3 assists a game.
How?Villanova got here:
- The Wildcats smashed No. 16 seed Radford in the opening round, hitting 14 three-pointers in a blowout 87-61 win. Villanova led by 21 points at halftime and was never challenged.
- The second round was barely more dramatic, a comfortable 81-58 win over No. 9 seed Alabama. That equaled the Crimson Tide?s worst-ever loss in tournament history, and put Villanova into its sixth Sweet 16 under Coach Jay Wright.
- Villanova kept shooting it in a 90-78 win over No. 5 seed West Virginia, making 13 more three-pointers. That gave the Wildcats 44 in three tournament games, and put them in the Elite Eight for the second time in three years. Wright said his team showed no fear in the win, and The Post?s John Feinstein thought?the performance boiled down to one word: grit.
- Villanova?overcame one of its worst offensive showings of the season in a 71-59 win over No. 3 seed Texas Tech.?The Wildcats shot just 33 percent from the field, their lowest mark since 2015, but offensive rebounds and free throws helped carry the day. Villanova won its 134th game over the past four seasons, the most in NCAA history
How Kansas got here:
- After a slow start the Jayhawks wore down No. 16 seed Penn in the first round, 76-60.?Udoka Azubuike, the team?s 7-foot big man, played just three minutes due to a knee injury as the Jayhawks won their 12th straight NCAA tournament opener.
- Malik Newman had 28 points and?Azubuike was on the floor for 22 minutes as the Jayhawks outlasted No. 8 seed Seton Hall, 83-79. The win gave Coach Bill Self the most NCAA tournament wins in school history.
- Kansas seized a huge lead and then hung on for an 80-76 win over No. 5 seed Clemson. The Jayhawks were up by as many as 20 points before Clemson rallied late in the second half. This became the third year in a row Kansas advanced?to the regional final as a No. 1 seed; both previous trips ended with Elite Eight losses.
- The Jayhawks rallied late and finally earned an 85-81 overtime win over No. 2 seed Duke in one of the tournament?s marquee games. The biggest shot in regulation was a late three-pointer from senior Svi Mykhailiuk, while Newman dominated overtime and finished with 32 points.
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