Could you imagine this Villanova missing 21 of 25 three-point attempts in a basketball game?
Yeah, me neither.
It seems like forever ago, but the Wildcats struggled mightily from distance in their Elite Eight win over Texas Tech. Those Boston rims were pretty stingy and Nova was in a real tussle with a tough-minded Red Raider team that was ranked in the top-10 at several points of the season.
They survived, advanced then put a three-point pasting on the class of the Big 12 in the Final Four nightcap.
With the venue switched to the San Antonio, the Wildcats couldn’t miss from downtown. Even their big buys were knocking them down. All told, the Wildcats set a Final-Four record 18 made three-pointers in a 95-79 win over Kansas.
After the Jayhawks fell behind 22-4 four minutes in, there was a thought that the 69,000-seat Alamodome wasn’t big enough to hold this team’s shooting range. It’s one thing to lose to a team that gets hot from three-point range but it’s quite another to lose to a three-point shooting team that takes it up another level. The Wildcats were making them from the Riverwalk, the Alamo and whatever San Antonio landmark you care to mention.
“Well, that was just one of those nights,” said Jay Wright. “Man, we made every shot to start the game. 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.”
Free throws? Who needs free throws? Villanova didn’t even attempt one until there was 8:47 remaining and by then, it was all but over.
The Villanova coach said he felt bad for Kansas because his team had been on the receiving end of a three-point thrashing, albeit on a smaller stage. In 2014, Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge combined for 14 of the team’s 21 treys in a 96-68 win. It was Creighton’s first year in the Big East and that performance made a lasting impression on Wright, who would lead the Wildcats to a national title tw0 years later.
“They lit us up,” Wright said. “Twice.”
It was Nova doing all the lighting up Saturday. With about 10 minutes the Alamodome scoreboards circling the stands went around the time Eric Paschall was knocking down his fourth three. They didn’t come back on. You can say the Wildcats shot the lights out on their way to eliminating a third straight Big 12 opponent.
And it wasn’t just any opponent. While KU coach Bill Self said his team’s up-and-down regular-season performances finally manifested themselves at the worst time, it’s difficult to imagine any college basketball team keeping pace with Villanova on this night. Kansas guards Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman combined for 44 points and six assists and on most nights, that’s a Jayhawk win. Not so in the national semis.
“It’s tough especially when most of the points are coming from the three-point line,” Newman said. “You put yourself in a deep hole and it’s tough to climb out.”
The question entering the finale against Michigan has revolve around this team possibly home-running its way to a second national title three years. The answer is yes because the Cats have already shown an ability to figure out ways to win when the triples aren’t falling. Michigan’s bigs will do a better job of closing out on Paschall and Omari Spellman but there are concerns about the Wolverines shooting struggles against Loyola. Big Blue won but was only 7-of-28 from distance.
Wright’s other title team didn’t seem as dependent on threes as this one but that team was nowhere near as proficient from the money line.
“It’s our best offensive team,” Wright said. “We’ve had some good ones. This is definitely our best.”
Kansas would agree.