SAN ANTONIO — After Houston’s loss, another Final Four secured, the net was cut, much of it hanging around the head coach’s wife’s neck. Other strands were quickly tied in the back of Final Four hats on Villanova players, who know what they’re doing now even in party mode. This party went on.
“We’re going in,” Collin Gillespie told a teammate, that is, in the locker room, maybe 20 minutes after the 50-44 final, except Gillespie himself was still lingering, hugging his old travel team and high school assistant. coach who had come down to the front of the stands from 25 rows. Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels walked across the field clapping the hands of half a dozen Villanova students who had shown up and were singing for the players. Gillespie posed for a selfie with a fan. It didn’t take. Gillespie posed for Take II.
They may be limping in New Orleans, but the NCAA Southern Region champion Villanova Wildcats will head to the Superdome next weekend after one of the most satisfying March races in history. from school, although this game ended in slow motion, a key player on the floor completely.
In this anti-classic for the ages, Villanova used every possible second of the shot clock, knowing there was no chance of beating Houston just by shooting at will from the three-point line. From that same line on the other end, Houston found the rim closed for business.
“I felt like it was like playing against ourselves,” said Villanova guard Caleb Daniels, a key player in this one. “They were as physical as us. It was a literal street fight, with every possession trying to get a rebound.
Only two Villanova players, Samuels (16 points) and Daniels (12 points) have scored in double figures. But it was enough since only one Houston player achieved the same feat, and the Cougars only made one of 20 three-pointers.
“Our children kept.” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson. “Dude, did we keep. Our defense was there. It’s not easy to hold a team with this kind of – Gillespie, Moore, Samuels – everyone in their lineup can make a basket. Shoot, we held them to 50 points. We had a lot of opportunities. They did not enter.
Nothing was easy about it. With that Final Four on the line, a double-digit Villanova lead, that trip to New Orleans so close Wildcats fans could taste the donuts, Villanova went over six minutes with just one field goal.
How this was accomplished adds to a dynasty. The last time a school qualified for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final three times in six tournaments was more than a decade ago: Michigan State in 2005, 2009 and 2010. The last time a school did it three times in such a time frame and won at least one? North Carolina has won it twice, in 2005 and 2009, and also did so in 2008.
It’s still at stake for Villanova: the last time a school won it three times in six tournaments? You return to John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty, which won seven in a row from 1967 to 1973.
This group is the fourth in the Jay Wright era to make the Final Four, and remains undefeated as of March.
“I think we like barbecue,” Wright said of all the recent milestones here. “We love Texas. We really do. The weather is always nice when we come here. People are so friendly. I do not know what to tell you. I don’t know what it is, man.
Nothing easy. You saw it at the end, how Gillespie decided that a 42-40 lead was not the time to play on his back leg, regardless of his condition. His jumper over a 6-foot-7 Cougars forward touched the net. When Justin Moore hit two free throws for a 46-40 lead, ‘Nova, the best free throw shooting team in the nation, had made all 12 free throws.
More than? Not finished? A runner from Jamal Shead with 1:24 left drew Houston to 46-42, Houston tried to run two defenders to Gillespie in the backcourt, but that may have worked in Villanova’s favor, Samuels getting a lane for one of his now patented discs.
Justin Moore got to a loose ball with 35.4 seconds left, tied it down, and tried to get up, couldn’t. His teammates helped him up with his uninjured foot, but he needed help off the pitch. He stayed there as a last minute shot from Houston missed the edge and then Eric Dixon secured the rebound. Gillespie had two free throws. When it was over, the teammates moved to Moore at the end of the bench, as he couldn’t move towards them.
“Probably not good for Justin,” Wright said later, adding that an MRI would determine the extent of Moore’s injury, which took him off the field on crutches. An x-ray didn’t determine any broken bones, but the rest will be determined.
Small games have become big. After a Samuels shot on the inside was blocked in the backboard for the goalie, Villanova had a 40-29 lead with just under 11 minutes to go. Daniels forced a steal on Houston’s next possession, but Villanova guards missed three straight shots on the front edge while Houston scored on three straight possessions. A Daniels reader brought it out. A runner from Shead after a rebound from the Cougars’ weak side pulled him out. Two free throws, it was 42-38.
Villanova had three shots on his next possession, three different players, none falling. Houston went down and scored inside, 42-40.
READ MORE: Villanova’s Jermaine Samuels passed stern test against Michigan with flying colors | Mike Sielsky
None of this, as expected. Houston didn’t make any of the eight first-half threes it tried, which made Villanova’s 3-of-12 shot from beyond the arc pretty good. Between the two teams, there were only six assists on the 15 baskets combined.
“Their timing is crazy,” Samuels said of Houston’s ability to hit the offensive boards. “I don’t know how to describe it, how to put it into words. Every time they put the ball on the glass, somehow the ball just finds their hands. Whether it’s letting go or picking it up.
Gillespie was officially good for it after bending his left leg late in Thursday’s Sweet 16 win over Michigan. But with Gillespie, that basically means he has four limbs, all attached. Gillespie was there for 16 minutes in the first half, moving the ball from station to station, but took a shot in the half.
“We couldn’t get Justin or Collin in the ball screens,” Wright said. “They just took it. We couldn’t get Justin and Collin in the post-ups. They took it. It was hard to even get them backhanded cuts. They’re a great defensive team, a great defensive team. They took our top two scorers out, and other guys had to step in.
Gillespie confirmed all of that: “They did a really good job of pressuring the ball and blitz ball screens. Every time we got to the station they also did a bit of a blitz. They definitely took away some things that we are normally used to. I was just trying to make the right play. More often than not it was giving up the ball, letting someone else play or making the call because they were blitzing me softly.
As the Cougars began to invade the offensive boards, Moore had a big block inside a big man from Houston. Moore’s contested three points from the wing pushed the lead back to 38-29. Earlier, a Samuels drive turned into a three-point play. Villanova did not depend on the three.
Villanova led 27-20 at halftime after making all 10 free throws, keeping Houston two buckets from the offensive glass and committing just three turnovers.
Houston came to the offensive boards and began to convert, eventually getting a three-pointer from one of the board’s tap-outs, drawing within 32-25, just over 16 minutes left.
Villanova threw the first punches. Houston’s first 11 possessions, the Cougars had a quick field goal to show for them, with three turnovers trying to get the ball in. Villanova jumped in with a three-pointer from Samuels from the wing and a pivot move from Dixon on the inside.
After five straight Villanova misses, the ball flying around the perimeter without getting a perfect look but using plenty of time, the Wildcats pushed the lead to 7-2 after Brandon Slater made a few free throws.
In the first 13 minutes, Houston had an offensive rebound, a contested ball that went out of bounds for Villanova. By then, Villanova had reached the foul line for six free throws and hit them all. His lead was 18-10. Those first few minutes? Huge.