Hot Shooting leads Wildcats to Final Four Victory

Villanova's Eric Paschall (4) throws down a thunderous dunk. 

In a battle of two No. 1 seeds, the Villanova Wildcats defeated the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday, 95-79, earning the right to play the Michigan Wolverines in the National Championship game on Monday night.

With over 68,000 fans in attendance at the Alamodome in San Antonio, the ‘Cats wasted no time jumping out in front. By the time seven minutes were played, the Wildcats were already up by 18 points, a lead that would never be cut back to single digits.

The Jayhawks claimed their only lead of the day on the first possession, a post-up by sophomore center Udoka Azubuike (8 PTS, 5 RBDS) against Wildcats freshman forward Omari Spellman(15 PTS, 13 RBDS, 3 BLKS). While Kansas certainly looked to take advantage of Azubuike’s size advantage, Wildcats head coach Jay Wright to also looked take advantage of the mismatch, positioning Spellman on the perimeter early.

“We thought Omari on the perimeter would be good for us,” Wright said. “[Omari], I think wore him [Azubuike] down. His mobility wore him down a little bit.”

“Shoot ‘em up from the streets is what we live by,” Spellman said, speaking about the approach to let fly from deep early and often.

After Spellman made two triples in the first five minutes, and the score was 22-4 at the 13:06 mark in the first half, Jayhawks head coach Bill Self made an adjustment. By taking Azubuike out of the game and replacing him with freshman forward Silvio De Souza (7 PTS, 7 RBDS), the Jayhawks added more defensive mobility to their frontcourt, not to mention a better free throw shooter. When Azubuike reentered the game, the score had narrowed to 31-17 in favor of the Wildcats. Correlation of course does not necessarily mean causation, however, after Azubuike’s reentry into the game, junior guard Jalen Brunson (18 PTS, 6 ASTS) immediately led the Wildcats on a run with three triples, halting the Jayhawks comeback.

After that barrage, Jayhawks senior guard, and Big 12 Player of the Year Devonte’ Graham, (23 PTS, 50% FG) hit a mid range jumper in the last few seconds of the first half to shave the deficit to 15, 47-32. 

Out of the intermission, Azubuike, despite some effectiveness on offense, continued to look tired on defense against the spread out offense of the Wildcats. Often he appeared hesitant or unable to challenge a Wildcats shooter beyond the paint, something that hurt the Jayhawks often.

By the 13:11 mark, the Wildcats lead had ballooned to 22, 67-45. From here on out, the margin more or less hovered around 20 points. Despite scoring 79 points in the contest, the main culprit behind the Jayhawk’s inability to make any headway into their sizable deficit was the deadeye shooting of Wildcats junior forward Eric Paschall. 10-11 from the field, and 4-5 from deep on the day, Paschall paced the Wildcats, especially in the second half, when he tallied 16 of his 24 points.

“My teammates found me some good shots,” Paschall said. “ They trust me and my coaches trust me and that gives me confidence.”

It is probably also a pretty decent boost to a player’s confidence when he knows his teammates have the ability to pick up the slack. Along with Paschall’s 80% mark from beyond the arc, the Wildcats as a whole shot 45% from deep and broke a Final Four record with 18 triples.  

With the game well in hand in the last ten minutes, the Wildcats continued to hit shots while obviously conserving energy for Monday’s championship tilt against the Wolverines. Graduate guard Denny Grace and sophomore forward Tim Delaney, got game time in the closing minutes, as did freshman forward Jermaine Samuels.

Although the big six all played heavy minutes in Saturday’s contest, much of that time was low-pressure, and the ‘Cats should be well rested and prepared to face off for the National Championship on Monday. Game time is set for 9:20 p.m.