NCAA Tournament in Kansas Villanova stayed behind to obtain it. Revenge for the finals loss in 2018
NEW ORLEANS — When Kansas coach Bill Self sat down to watch a movie of his last trip to the Final Four in recent days, he couldn’t see his stomach for more than 12 minutes. It’s easy to imagine that his stomach is churning, his palms are getting sticky and his head is starting to spin.
“I get ticks whenever I think about it,” Self said of the 2018 semi-finals, in which the highlights ended well after Kansas made the opening basket. The game turned into a solid loss to Villanova. Gaya, who would go on to win the national championship.
Myself and a handful of players quietly took that whipping and ensured it didn’t happen again on Saturday, pulling the Wildcats down the stretch for an early lead and an 81-65 win.
Kansas will play the winner of Saturday night’s second semi-final between North Carolina and Duke on Monday night, allowing the Jayhawks to win another memory – losing their most recent championship game at the same Superdome a decade ago.
The Jayhawks scored their fifth year thanks to an almost flawless performance from senior guard Ochai Agbaji, who scored 21 points and attempted to make all six 3-pointers – including the first shot of the game – and 25 points by center David McCormack. . Combined, the two Kansas anchors scored 16 out of 20 shots.
And they needed to be so good.
Villanova, playing without Justin Moore, who ruptured his Achilles tendon last week, tried to work his way back from a 19-point opening deficit, but his guards emerged victorious – Colin Gillespie, Brandon Slater and New Orleans. The parent of Caleb Daniels, who replaced Moore. Starting lineup – was not quite.
The Wildcats drew within 64-58 on a 3-point play from Jermaine Samuels, but couldn’t get any closer. When Christian Braun hit a 3-pointer with the shot clock expired, he gave Kansas a 71-59 lead and all but spelled the end.
“I had nothing to lose, honestly,” Braun said. “I just threw one in there and it went in.”
It was one of several plays – Agazzi’s block of a 3-pointer, the others going out for Villanova, a put back by McCormack – that turned the Jayhawks’ path.
“We always had an answer,” Braun said.
It was hard to imagine a worse start for Villanova.
Kansas scored the first 10 points, Villanova swung the ball over four consecutive possessions and Agaji was on fire, his first four shots, all 3-pointers. When Aghazi sliced through the Villanova defense and delivered McCormack for a rim-rattling dunk, Kansas took a 26–11 lead a little more than 10 minutes into the game, giving Villanova a timeout.
Coach Jay Wright said, “He was effective from the inside with his size, as he got us out early on Agaji’s 3 and we weren’t able to help him in the post.” priority. “It could become a problem for us.”
When he arrived at Lawrence five years ago, it was hard to see that Agaji would play such a central role. He was one of Kansas City’s better players and an excellent student, but he didn’t even debut for their Amateur Athletic Union team, the Mocan Elite, and so he came to Lawrence as someone who was coached. hoped that he would be a good companion and would grow. In a role player.
Instead, he’s turned into something else—an athletic winger with a deadly jump shot that was player of the year in the Big 12, the most competitive conference in the country over the past few seasons, and a first-team All-America.
“Obviously, my role has changed over the years,” Aghazi said. “I just came in as a contributor, a man off the bench, and then I earned my opening role. As the years went by, my scoring on teams was needed more and then this year, obviously, just stepping up. And to be that man.”
Aghazi made just 2 of his first 15 3-pointers in the tournament before regaining his shooting touch in the Midwest Regional Final against Miami. Even when he was struggling, his confidence didn’t waver and he found other ways to contribute.
The opening was the base of a Kansas offense on Saturday night, which swirled and cut, the sound of sneakers on the Superdome floor zipping around the perimeter as the ball zipped around the perimeter, the nation’s most determined to chase the ball. was one of the defenses.
Complementing the opening on the periphery was McCormack, the lumbering senior center who occasionally found himself on the wrong end of defensive mismatches, but was a force to be reckoned with on this night against Villanova center Eric Dixon and the Wildcats Thin Frontcourt.
When McCormack threw a dunk at Samuels in the middle of the second half, he made a roar and celebrated so fiercely – patting himself on the head – that an official warned him on his way to the court to cool it down.
“How well we shoot, in large part, probably depends on Ochai in a lot of ways, because he’s going to take the majority of the 3,” said Self, who called for a lob to him on early possession. , which ended with Agaji calmly sinking a 3-pointer. “And from the very beginning he led us, I think he gave confidence to everyone else.”
This was only the latest test of Villanova’s toughness and solidarity this season.
Moore’s tendon injury came seconds after the South Regional final victory over Houston. In a flash, the Wildcats had lost their best defender, a vital ballhandler, fearless shotmaker and fierce leader. As the Wildcats celebrated their victory, they did so only after gathering around Moore, who had wrapped a towel over his head on the team’s bench.
Villanova’s tight rotation was already narrowed by the loss of reserve Jordan Longino, who won the N.C.A.A. He had torn cartilage in his knee during exercise prior to the start of the disease. Tournament.
If there was anything comforting for the Wildcats, it’s their familiarity with managing the short-handed roster.
A year earlier, he had lost Gillespie to a knee injury at the end of the regular season. They regrouped to play well in the N.C.A.A. The tournament progressed to the Round of 16, where he led eventual champion Baylor before wilting in the middle of the second half.
Wright said Monday he was watching the film and figuring out who would replace Moore on out-of-bounds plays and on press-break offense when he called Gillespie to ask if he had any idea about Moore’s role. The absence needs to be addressed to the team.
“Not at all,” Gillespie told him. “Everyone’s good. Don’t worry about it.”
Such optimism, if plausible, may have been lost. Moore’s absence may have contributed to the hasty turn around and it robbed the Wildcats of another rebounder, which would have kept McCormack and Jalen Wilson, who had 12 rebounds, at bay.
And yet, Villanova, who excelled at winning an often tight game, seemed ready to do so again. “Dig, scrape and claw and finally try to steal it,” Gillespie said as the Wildcats told themselves.
As he spoke, Wright sat next to him on the podium, rubbing his temples and smiling—a feeling that his counterpart on Saturday night understood so well.
Sources: NY Times, Billy Witz, Direct News 99