EditorsNote: adds quotes
Jalen Brunson scored 15 points to carry top-seeded Villanova past third-seeded Texas Tech 71-59 on Sunday in the East Regional Final of the NCAA Tournament in Boston.
Eric Paschall added 12 points and 14 rebounds, and Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges also scored 12 points apiece for the Wildcats, who advanced to the Final Four for the second time in three years. They won the national championship in 2016.
The Wildcats (34-4) will face Kansas in a national semifinal on Saturday at San Antonio. The Jayhawks beat Duke 85-81 in overtime Sunday in the Midwest Regional final.
Omari Spellman had 11 for the Wildcats, who shot 4 of 24 from 3-point territory but hit 29 of 35 free throws.
Villanova has won 134 games in the last four seasons, the most in a four-year mark since Duke won 133 from 1997-2001. The Wildcats advanced to the sixth Final Four in program history.
“We are very honored to be in this position,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We played a really tough basketball team that had us scouted extremely well, took away our threes, really tested our ability to play tough and ugly. I think that was their game plan. I think Chris (Beard, Texas Tech’s coach,) did a great job with it, and our guys responded. I was really proud of them.
Keenan Evans led Texas Tech (27-10) with 12 points while Jarrett Culver added 11.
The Red Raiders appeared in the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.
Spellman drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give Villanova a 46-33 lead with 14:12 remaining.
The Wildcats went cold, missing nine of 10 shots yet still held a 46-35 advantage.
Texas Tech got within 50-42 with 7:38 left when Davide Moretti dropped in a 3-pointer.
Bridges responded with a jumper to boost Villanova’s lead to 52-42.
The Red Raiders scored the next five points and closed the gap to 52-47 with 5:54 left.
Bridges hit two clutch free throws to go up 59-51 with 2:47 remaining. It was enough of a cushion to propel Villanova into the Final Four.
“They’re a great defensive team, one of the best defensive teams in the country, and then one of the best teams we played against,” Brunson said. “So they did a really good job of sticking to the game plan, playing team defense.
“But for us, if shots aren’t falling for us, we try to make sure that’s not affecting us, that we’re getting stops on the defensive end. And still having confidence in ourselves that we can take shots on the offensive end.”
Villanova trailed 9-1 to start the game, its largest deficit in the tournament.
However, the Wildcats stepped up their defensive pressure and slowly built a double-digit lead at 34-23 when DiVincenzo completed a three-point play with just under a minute remaining before halftime.
Brunson followed with two free throws for a 36-23 lead. That was Villanova’s advantage at the half.
Texas Tech’s 23 points represented the squad’s lowest first-half output of the season. The Red Raiders shot 9 of 27 and missed nine of their 10 shots from beyond the 3-point arc before the break. Overall, Texas Tech made 5 of 20 from 3-point range and sank only 33.3 percent of its field-goal attempts.
Beard said, “Our defense gets a lot of attention. It’s our identity, which it should. We held Villanova to 33 percent shooting tonight. We made more field goals than them. But I think the difference in the game was their defense.
“That’s one of the best defenses we’ve played against. You know, we got some good shots, but they were all contested.”
Villanova dominated on the boards with a 26-13 edge in the first half, 51-33 overall.
“We really got whipped on the boards,” Beard said. “We haven’t got outrebounded like that all year. It’s a real problem.”
—Field Level Media