Villanova’s red-hot shooting finally cooled off, but the Wildcats made two critical three-pointers in a game-changing run that secured their first trip to the Final Four since 2009. Villanova, the No. 2 seed, knocked off No. 1 overall seed Kansas, 64–59, to win the South regional in Louisville on Saturday and now advances to its fifth Final Four in school history. The Wildcats led by seven at halftime after using their defense to limit Kansas to a season-low 25 first-half points, but the Jayhawks woke up with a 9–0 run to go in front 40–36. Villanova responded, however, and capped a 10–0 burst with back-to-back three-pointers from senior Ryan Arcidiacono and junior Josh Hart to grab a 50–45 lead with 7:54 remaining.
The Wildcats never trailed again, although Kansas refused to go away. Wayne Selden Jr. missed a three that would have given the Jayhawks the lead with 1:13 remaining, but Frank Mason III had a three-pointer and a reverse layup in the final minute, both of which brought Kansas within one. Villanova, however, made all eight of its free throws down the stretch to keep the Jayhawks at bay. Arcidiacono, Hart and junior Kris Jenkins all had 13 points for the Wildcats. Devonte’ Graham led Kansas with 17 points before fouling out on a questionable call in the final minute when he slid across the floor for a loose ball and bumped into Arcidiacono. Selden Jr. and Mason III each had 16 points.
Why it matters
The Wildcats had been ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time in school history this February, but after losing to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament final, they slipped to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Their recent history of early exits in the Big Dance—failing to reach the Sweet 16 since 2009 despite being a No. 2 seed twice and a No. 1 seed last year—made them a popular target for an early exit, but they crushed UNC Asheville, Iowa and Miami by shooting 59.9% from the floor and 62.5% from 3-point range to reach the Elite Eight.
On Saturday, Villanova was held to just 40.4% shooting and made only 4 of 18 (22.2%) from three-point range, but it held the Jayhawks to 46% and 27.3%, respectively. Jay Wright’s core group of juniors and seniors that has gone 94–13 the past three seasons remains in pursuit of the school’s second national championship and first since 1985.
As for the Jayhawks, despite going 33–5 and winning their 12th straight Big 12 regular-season title and following it up with the conference tournament title, their season ends in disappointment. All-America forward Perry Ellis’s career is also over after four seasons in which Kansas won 116 games. He entered the game averaging 23 points per game in the tournament, but he had a season-low four points on just 1-for-5 shooting and five rebounds. His career ends without reaching the Final Four. In fact, the last four times the Jayhawks have been a No. 1 seed they’ve been unable to get to the Final Four.
The Wildcats will face Oklahoma next Saturday in Houston in the Final Four. The two teams met on Dec. 7 in the Pearl Harbor Invitational, with the Sooners routing Villanova, 78–55, behind 14 three-pointers and 18 points for Buddy Hield. Their only NCAA tournament meeting came in the 1988 Elite Eight, when Oklahoma rolled, 78–59, to win the Southeast regional.