SAN ANTONIO — What had appeared to be an intriguing matchup of a couple of No. 1-seeded teams featuring a pair of first-team All-American point guards turned into a matter of Villanova going up against history. Villanova won that one, too.
The Wildcats broke the record for most three-point baskets in a Final Four game, making 18 of them Saturday night. In fact, they tied that mark before the first ended. That performance, in tandem with strong defense, enabled Villanova to rout Kansas, 95-79, and advance to its second NCAA Championship Game in three years.
So there was no dramatic duel between Villanova’s Jalen Brunson and Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham, both of whom were among the five players named to The Associated Press All-America first team. There was no drama at all after the Wildcats (35-4) took a 22-4 lead.
“We just made all of our shots,” coach Jay Wright said. “That happens sometimes.”
Making all of the shots was almost literally true for Eric Paschall, a 6-9 forward from Dobbs Ferry, who made four of his five three-pointers and shot 10-for-11 overall in a game-high 24-point effort for the team that will play Michigan for the title here Monday night.
Kansas coach Bill Self said: “Jay’s team is tough. They were tougher than us, quite a bit tougher and certainly they shot the ball so well they had mismatches whenever that ball started moving around the court.”
Paschall had not been part of the Villanova team that won the 2016 title — on a three-pointer at the buzzer — because he had to sit out after transferring from Fordham.
“When he came here, he said he wanted to be part of a team, part of a family,” Wright said, adding that Paschall has become the Wildcats’ best defender.
The player had not been an accurate long-range shooter as recently as the start of this season. “The coaches did a great job, staying with me, knowing that I was struggling,” Paschall said. “I know if I don’t make shots, I’m able to play defense and rebound for my teammates.”
Villanova is known for its inclination to attempt three-pointers and its ability to make them. Its famous slogan, “Shoot ’em up and sleep in the streets” refers to the mindset that encourages players to keep trying even at the risk of failing so badly that people in your own house won’t let you in.
But making them is no easy task in the massive domed stadiums that host Final Four games. The background can be disorienting. Graham had said Friday that he expected his team to fire up a few airballs at first. That didn’t happen, but it didn’t matter.
Brunson had 18 points and six assists, Graham had 23 points and three assists, but none of that mattered, either.
The former said: “If we weren’t making shots, I think we would have grinded that game out and won it by one or two possessions. We just tried to play together defensively . . . When we stick together on defense, that’s what makes us special.”
Three-pointers are what put the Wildcats in a class by themselves, at least Saturday night. the Wildcats made 13 (of 26) threes in the first half, tying the Final Four mark for an entire game, set 21 years ago by UNLV and matched eight years ago by Duke. They broke the record one minute into the second half, on a shot by Paschall that produced a 50-34 lead.
The three-pointer has been Villanova’s signature ever since Jay Wright went to a smaller lineup out of necessity (an injury) in a close 2005 NCAA Tournament loss to North Carolina. Wright determined at the time he probably could have success recruiting smaller players who could shoot threes. Success has been the product of that process.
As Brunson said late Saturday night, “It’s not a finished product.”