EditorsNote: 2nd lede
Eric Paschall sat out as a sophomore transfer on the 2016 Villanova team that won the school’s first national title in 31 years.
Two years later, he and the Wildcats are back, hunting another NCAA championship with a squad of sharpshooters that set a Final Four record Saturday night against helpless Kansas.
Paschall canned four of Villanova’s 18 3-pointers and scored a game-high 24 points, leading six players in double figures as the Wildcats routed the Jayhawks 95-79 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Villanova (35-4) will take on Michigan, a 69-57 winner over Loyola-Chicago in the first semifinal Saturday, in the championship game Monday night. The Wildcats will be solid favorites after hitting 55.4 percent from the field and leading by double figures for the final 35:58 against a fellow top seed.
Part of the reason is Paschall, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound redshirt junior who is one of six players on the team to average in double figures. All six can play position-less basketball, able to score from anywhere on the floor and move the ball around until someone gets a clean look.
“It just feels good,” Paschall said. “My teammates trusted me, filled me with that confidence.”
Overconfidence would have been Villanova’s only problem on this night, given how well it shot the ball from the arc. It canned six 3-pointers in the game’s first 6:57, establishing a 22-4 lead when Collin Gillespie came off the bench to sink a three. One of the two 2-pointers in that span was a highlight-reel dunk by Paschall of a missed three from Omari Spellman.
By halftime, when the Wildcats led 47-32, they had tied the single-game record for a Final Four with 13 threes. A desperation heave from Paschall to beat the shot clock 61 seconds into the second half found the net to give Villanova the record and a 50-34 lead.
Six different Wildcats converted multiple 3-pointers, and they also shredded Kansas’ defense when they overcommitted on the perimeter. They finished the game at 55.4 percent from the field, going 18-of-25 on 2-point attempts.
“Kansas did a good job of getting out on our shooters,” claimed Villanova coach Jay Wright, “and (Paschall) did a good job making plays one-on-one.”
Spellman added 15 points and 13 rebounds, while Jalen Brunson contributed 18 points and six assists. Donte DiVincenzo scored 15 points off the bench. Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges each tallied 10.
Devonte’ Graham bagged 23 points to lead the Jayhawks (31-8). Malik Newman, who scored all 13 overtime points in a Midwest Region championship win over Duke that got Kansas to San Antonio, added 21. Sviatoslav Mykhailuk scored 10 points.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t have the perfect roster to win all those games, win the league ... it seemed to catch up to us a little today but I’m not going to think of it as sour.”
Newman’s jumper with 9:20 left pulled the Jayhawks within 71-57, but the Wildcats methodically restored the lead to 20. DiVincenzo’s 3-pointer with 3:57 remaining made it an 83-63 game, and all that was left to do from there was settle the final margin.
Scoring could be a bit tougher for Villanova against Michigan, which has held three of its NCAA Tournament opponents under 60 points with discipline, length and intelligent challenges on jump-shooters.
“They’re really long defensively, really disciplined,” Wright said of the Wolverines. “They present matchup nightmares. But when you get to this point, you’re going to play a great team.”
—Field Level Media