SAN ANTONIO — With a style that echoed and a performance that spoke for itself, Villanova fastened its hold on college basketball by winning its second national championship in three years Monday night.
The Wildcats built on their title from 2016 but did it in a different way with new roles and a standout new cast member, beating Michigan, 79-62, in the NCAA Tournament final at the Alamodome.
It was a doubly proud achievement for the relatively small Philadelphia school to win again, and there no doubt was a carryover of confidence. The feeling was carried by Donte DiVincenzo, who missed the previous title run because of a broken foot but was on the bench in a suit for the 2016 championship game. He scored 18 points in 18 minutes in the first half Monday night, then hit two long three-pointers after Michigan cut its deficit to 12 in the second half.
All told, he scored a career-high 31 points as the Big East team completed a dominant run through March Madness, never winning by fewer than 12 points. It cemented Jay Wright’s status as one of the premier coaches.
“I really can’t get my mind around it,” Wright said of winning two titles in three years. “I never dreamt of this. I thought we played our best game in the championship game.”
DiVincenzo, the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, said: “Being able to be up here with these guys and experience this is a dream come true.”
He added, “I did not think I was going to have this kind of night. Every night I come into the game, I just try to bring energy. If we get off to a good start, I try to take that energy to a new level. I try to defend, I try to rebound to the best of my ability and just try to get it going. These guys [Mikal Bridges, who had 19 points, and Jalen Brunson] did a great job of just finding me. And I found myself in a rhythm.’’
Villanova’s players have a keen sense of their history, of how Rollie Massimino coached the Wildcats to a stunning final victory over Georgetown in 1985 and how most of the current team members won one themselves two years ago. They acknowledge how those championships intersect, remembering how Massimino (who died in August 2017) sat behind the bench for the 2016 final and — during the height of the tension — nudged Wright, his former assistant, and told him to fix his pocket handkerchief.
DiVincenzo, in turn, has gotten a few nudges from Wright. “He’s taught me a lot as a person, as a player,’’ he said of his coach. “I came here as an immature player, trying to get by on athleticism. He taught me so much about the game in my first year. So many details about the game.”
But Villanova’s players know this isn’t 2016. This is distinct. “It’s a different run. If you’re a leader, it’s totally different from being a young guy,” said Phil Booth, a standout reserve against North Carolina two years ago and a redshirt junior starter now.
No one could identify the distinctions better than redshirt sophomore DiVincenzo. All he could do two years ago was watch, having broken a bone in his foot that December. So this was his first national championship game. He could not have been better.
Kris Jenkins, who made the winning three-pointer at the buzzer in 2016, was on hand to watch this one. Of DiVincenzo’s improvement in the past two years, he said: “Everything — his energy, his effort, his ability to shoot and make plays. But I think his toughness, he’s tough. That’s a gutty performance on a big stage, with the world watching. The world was watching him dominate like he did. Hey, man, have yourself a moment.”
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had 23 points and Moritz Wagner added 16 for Michigan, which shot 3-for-23 from three-point range — two fewer makes than DiVincenzo, who shot 5-for-7.
DiVincenzo’s teammates were tough on the freshman who started that 2015-16 season with a team that would win it all without him. Said Jenkins: “In our program, the older guys aren’t afraid of friction, leading the younger guys and pushing on each other. We just pushed him like we were pushed.”
Jenkins, still using “we” in talking about Villanova, added: “Now I think that we’ll get the respect our program deserves.’’
5/7 3-point shooting
Teams that have won each of their six NCAA Tournament games by double digits:
North Carolina 2009
Michigan State 2000