As winners of two of the last four national championships, Villanova knows a thing or two about being number one. On Saturday, however, the Wildcats found themselves playing a much different role, going up against the nation’s leading team, Kansas, at the Wells Fargo Center.
In a game with 10 ties and 14 lead changes, it was the Wildcats who were on top when the clock hit zero, 56-55. The win gives the program its first regular season win over a No. 1 ranked team since defeating UConn in 2006.
Villanova has now won four of its last five meetings against the Jayhawks, dating back to a 2013 matchup in the Battle for Atlantis. The Wildcats also defeated the Kansas in the NCAA Tournament in both 2016 and 2018 on their way to the title.
“They gutted it out down the stretch,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said of his team. “Great defensive plays by Collin [Gillespie] and Saddiq [Bey] down the stretch.”
Excellent defense was a theme of the entire game in fact, as each team struggled to put points on the board.
Villanova finished the game shooting just 34%, including just 24% from deep. For their part, the Jayhawks connected on only 43% of their shots and went 23% from beyond the arc.
“I think they are a good defensive team” Kansas head coach, Bill Self, said of the Wildcats. “Even though I think both teams are good defensive teams, I think both offenses helped the defense look better.”
For Villanova, Jermaine Samuels led the team with 15 points on the day. He was one of just two ‘Cats to reach double-figures in the contest, joining Gillespie, who scored 12. Freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl contributed nine points to go along with a team high nine rebounds.
For the Jayhawks, Devon Dotson led the charge with 15 points on 5-15 shooting, while Udoka Azubuike pitched in 12 points and 11 rebounds.
With 1:27 remaining, Kansas was seemingly on its way to an impressive road victory, holding a 55-51 advantage with possession of the ball. However, a key steal by Gillespie, along with the ensuing layup on the fast break, cut the Jayhawks lead to just two. On the Jayhawks next possession, sophomore David McCormick missed a mid-range jumper, giving the ‘Cats a chance which they would not let go to waste. In need of a basket, Gillespie penetrated off the dribble before kicking it out to Samuels, who drilled the go-ahead three-pointer from the right wing with just 20 seconds to play.
“We were running a play that was for me and Collin,” Samuels said. “I saw Collin starting to go, and then I saw Dotson sink in a little bit, and I knew it was a good time to catch and shoot. I just stepped into it and shot it unconsciously.”
Still with plenty of time, the Jayhawks went to their leading scorer, Dotson, with the game on the line. The sophomore drew contact from Gillespie, resulting in a one-and-one. With the raucous student section in his vision, Dotson missed the front end, forcing the Jayhawks to foul. Sitting at just four team fouls, Kansas was forced to repeat this procedure twice more, before a potentially disastrous errant inbounds pass from Saddiq Bey resulted in the visitors regaining possession.
Given one last chance to win, Dotson was unable to hit the game winner, however, missing a short jumper from the right of the basket with Bey in his face.
Kansas starter, Marcus Garrett missed the entirety of the second half after leaving the game with a right leg injury just before halftime.
Now with a signature non-conference win to its resume, Villanova will return to action on Dec. 30 when it squares off against Xavier in the first game of conference play.