Villanova Handles Michigan To Win 2nd National Championship in Last 3 Years

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Villanova on Monday night became that occasional college basketball men’s national champion of such uncommon quality that it never did cause its fan base any of the customary bouts of March such as fear, dread or horror. The Villanova fans who streamed from the Alamodome into the bliss of a second national title in three seasons did so with projected life spans pretty much the same as they would have had if they ignored the NCAA tournament and missed their team’s six-game mow through it.

They, of course, had not. They had seen it through from their loud quadrant of the Final Four dome, among other places from here to that city of winners known as Philadelphia, and they had seen it right down to the mastery Villanova showed when it wriggled out of an early little thicket against Michigan and rode its superior skill to a 79-62 win. When the Wildcats sprang out of a 21-14 deficit that stood after nine minutes to lead 37-28 at halftime, they didn’t do so with the kind of dazzling blur they made in routing Kansas on Saturday night. They did it steadily and methodically if compellingly, because in their 36-win season, they reached a rare level of superbness.

“I really can’t get my mind around it,” said Coach Jay Wright, with national titles in his 15th and 17th Villanova seasons. “I never dreamt of this.”

His team had so much might spread through so many players that it included a sophomore backup who could cure Michigan’s early gumming-up of Villanova’s offense on his way to 31 points which, given Donte DiVincenzo’s outbursts this year of 30 points on Butler, 25 on St. John’s, 23 on Marquette, wasn’t even all that novel. That’s even if it did turn up as the most title-game points ever by a non-starter. He recorded even his seventh and eighth blocked shots of the season.

“Blocked shots, definitely,” he said when asked his preference.

In a tournament of UMBC and of Buffalo, of Florida State and of Nevada, of upsets and outright jolts, of Loyola Chicago and Loyola Chicago and Loyola Chicago, Villanova had whisked through Radford, Alabama, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Kansas and Michigan by 26, 23, 12, 12, 16 and 17, without any of the last-minute dramatics that capped their previous title, their 77-74 win over North Carolina two years ago east down Interstate 10 in Houston.

“When I looked at their scores in the NCAA tournament, there were not even any close ones,” Michigan Coach John Beilein said. In coming to rest at the happiest kind of 36-4 here, they took two opponents who had fantastic seasons and fairly mauled them. They killed all suspense but replaced it with fetching excellence.

They did so even though their leader, national player of the year Jalen Brunson, unthinkably picked up a fourth foul with 10:51 left, but ended up exhilarated and said, “I really cannot put this into words at all. I just love my brothers, I love my team, I love the Villanova nation.”

They did so even if the first, furious moments of Monday night did wreak for them a pile of apparent inconvenience.

Instead of 18 three-point shots, they made 10.

Oh, well.

At that 11-minute mark of the first half, Villanova’s lush box score from its semifinal against Kansas had dried up. From 13 three-point shots in the first half Saturday night, the Wildcats had made one. Michigan’s aggression off the dribble made Villanova seem briefly half-sluggish. Michigan’s length and merit on defense had thrown the intended clutter into Villanova’s passing lanes.

By the time that skill-rich 6-foot-11 Michigan man from Berlin, Moritz Wagner, made the kind of cut that could make a coach weep for joy, and freshman Jordan Poole zipped him a lovely pass from the right side to arrange a layup, Michigan led 21-14. Wagner had 11 points already, his 24 points and 15 rebounds against Loyola Chicago Saturday still fresh in all the minds.

What happened from there to halftime would have seemed predictable only to those who comprehended Villanova’s supremacy in full. The idea that Michigan would not score again until the 5:47 mark, which did occur, seemed unlikely. The idea that Wagner would not score again in the half, which did occur, seemed unlikely.

“They just adjusted, I think,” Wagner said of Villanova’s thickening defense.

The idea that DiVincenzo would blast a barrage that got him to 18 points by halftime, which did occur . . .

That wasn’t so unlikely.

The 6-5 DiVincenzo spent the season in Villanova’s array of talents making 10 starts, averaging 29 minutes, 13 points and so on. Yet as the stage got the biggest, he clearly considered himself viable. He made feverish drives and outlandish three-point shots with a look in his manner that suggested the shots just weren’t all that outlandish. When he heaved — sorry, directed — one from the deep left at the 6:08 mark, Villanova had caught Michigan to lead 23-21.

By halftime, DiVincenzo was a testament to versatility, Eric Paschall, the strong 6-9 junior who loosed 24 points on Kansas, hadn’t even scored. When Paschall began doing so, on an open three-point shot and a robust drive for a reverse layup against Wagner, Villanova led 44-30 just two minutes after intermission. Beilein had to call timeout. Even with his renowned strategic skill, his fine planning, his smart, impressive players and the 14-game winning streak they brought to the game, they all finally had run across someone who could turn them, and this tournament, into a fine cast of supporting actors.

That marvel could turn the second half of the first Monday night of April into filler: Mikal Bridges collecting 19 pretty points, Omari Spellman getting 11 rebounds, often swooping from parts of the sky. The Villanova fans would spend the closing minutes doing things like amassing rousing cheers when the scoreboard showed former Villanova stars such as Josh Hart and Kyle Lowry. Why, in an event of madness, they hardly knew even a palpitation.


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