LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY – Villanova players danced and celebrated after pulling off what many thought would be the NCAA Tournament’s most difficult task.
Beating Kansas, the No. 1 overall seed, required taking the Jayhawks out of their comfort zone while seizing the opportunities that resulted. The Wildcats did both effectively even though it wasn’t always pretty, and their reward is a berth in the Final Four.
Kris Jenkins made two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining, Jalen Brunson added two more with 3.5 seconds left and second-seeded Villanova upset the top-seeded Jayhawks 64-59 on Saturday night in the South Region final. The Wildcats will play Oklahoma next weekend in Houston.
Mikal Bridges and Josh Hart each made big steals in the final minute to help the Wildcats (33-5) pull off the upset and end the Jayhawks’ 17-game winning streak. The Wildcats are back in the Final Four for the first time since 2009, and they can credit balanced scoring and ferocious defense.
Jenkins, Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono each scored 13 points for the Wildcats. They used a 10-0 run to take a 50-45 lead and get key baskets and plays down the stretch in beating the Jayhawks (33-5).
“Every guy on this team is willing to do whatever it takes to win, man,” said Jenkins, who made all six free throws to offset 3-for-10 shooting. “Everybody on this team sacrifices. But we’re not satisfied. We’re looking forward to our next game in Houston. This definitely is a special feeling but like I said before, we’re not satisfied.”
Devonte’ Graham had 17 points, and Frank Mason III and Wayne Selden Jr. added 16 each for Kansas, which got just four points from leading scorer Perry Ellis. The Jayhawks shot 46 percent from the field and even won the rebounding battle 32-28, but played from behind most of the night.
Even when it was ahead, Kansas never seemed in control and ended up making desperation plays that didn’t work.
Graham made 5 of 9 from long range but fouled out late, and everyone else was a combined 1-for-13 from behind the arc. Kansas also committed 16 turnovers, including several in the final minutes when it was within a possession of tying or leading.
“I think the basket shrunk a little bit for us, and certainly, they probably got some confidence the way they were defending us,” Kansas coach Bill Self said about Villanova. “But it came down them making free throws and it came down to a couple of loose balls, and that was the difference in the outcome.”
No. 2 Oklahoma 80, No. 1 Oregon 68: In Anaheim, California, Buddy Hield was brilliant from start to finish for Oklahoma, scoring 37 points with a fluid jumper and an answer for everything Oregon tried against him defensively.
In fact, there was only one remaining question after Hield climbed a stepladder to cut down the net that he had just set on fire in the West Region final of the NCAA Tournament.
Can Buddyball take the Sooners all the way to their first national title?
Hield hit eight 3-pointers in another utterly dominant performance, and Oklahoma advanced to its first Final Four since 2002 with an 80-68 victory over Oregon on Saturday.
“It’s special,” Hield said afterward, a piece of the net tied to his Final Four hat. “As a kid, you dream of having games like this. . . . I’m just happy that we all made it, and we’ve just got to finish it out.”
Jordan Woodard added 13 points for the Sooners (29-7), who streaked to an 18-point lead in the first half and never let the Ducks back in it. Oklahoma is in the Final Four for the fifth time in school history, and coach Lon Kruger is back in college basketball’s biggest showcase for the second time after a 22-year absence.
“It’s about seeing the feelings of satisfaction on the players’ faces,” Kruger said. “They feel good about this right now, but they’ll feel even better about it years from now. They’ve got a special, special spot.”