SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Bill Self’s exasperated and almost helpless reactions said everything about why Kansas’ latest Final Four trip would last only one game.
The coach knew his Jayhawks had to close out on Villanova’s deep well of 3-point shooters and contest all those deep shots if they were going to beat the Wildcats in Saturday’s national semifinals. Instead, Self found himself flailing his arms in disbelief as Villanova’s very first basket was a corner 3 on a clean look — the start of a have-no-answers night as the Wildcats made 3s at a record pace to shoot the Jayhawks right into the offseason.
“They got anything they wanted early,” Self said, “and then of course they made the most of it and knocked them down.”
Villanova ended up making 18 of 40 3-pointers in the 95-79 win, a record for any Final Four game while also flirting with a record for any game in the NCAA Tournament’s history.
Kansas (31-8) came in playing a guard-heavy lineup that theoretically could give them a bit more ability to chase Villanova’s shooters on the perimeter. And the Jayhawks had allowed opponents to shoot 32.7 percent from behind the arc this year while allowing 10 or more 3s just 10 times.
Meanwhile, Villanova came in needing just seven 3s to set a new Division I single-season record.
But the Jayhawks were a step slow all night in San Antonio, the site of their last national championship a decade ago. They couldn’t keep up as the Wildcats whipped the ball around the perimeter or on drive-and-kickouts for open looks.
“We just let them shoot like that,” senior guard Svi Mykhailiuk said. “We just wasn’t quick enough on defense and wasn’t aggressive enough. When you get hot, it’s hard to miss.”
Part of the problem, though, was that Villanova had so many shooters that there wasn’t a way for the Jayhawks to attempt a switch or rotate for help defense without creating a problem elsewhere. Self noted afterward that 7-foot sophomore Udoka Azubuike and 6-9 freshman Silvio De Sousa rarely have to cover all the way to the 3-point arc.
The Wildcats made them pay with forwards Eric Paschall (24 points on 10-for-11 shooting, including 4 of 5 on 3s) and Omari Spellman (15 points, three 3-pointers).
“We tried to devise a ball-screen defensive plan, which we thought would eliminate some of the actions,” Self said.
“We didn’t do what we were really supposed to do with the aggressiveness we should’ve because we were worried about the result because they had already picked on us some.”
Yes, things started badly, all right — then escalated until Kansas was in a 22-4 hole.
Self was irked right away when Paschall drained that open corner 3 less than 90 seconds into the game. Minutes later, the ball swung to Spellman near the top and Self immediately pointed for Azubuike to come out. Azubuike made it only to about the elbow before Spellman was knocking it down for a 9-2 lead and leading Self to burn an immediate timeout.
At another point, Villanova found Paschall alone in the corner right in front of the Kansas bench for another 3. Marcus Garrett couldn’t recover down from the wing and Paschall buried that one, too, sending Self leaning back in his chair and raising both hands to his head.
Later in the half, Self was yelling to his team “Don’t back off!” on the defensive end as though trying to re-emphasize a point from a scouting-report long since ripped to shreds.
“When we got spread out and our game plan went to crap on how we were going to guard certain actions, then we got caught in between,” Self said. “And that’s the worst thing you can do defensively, is be caught in between.”
Things got so bad that the Wildcats had tied the Final Four single-game record of 13 3-pointers by halftime, prompting the NCAA to post a highlight montage of each and every one on Twitter.
“There’s just certain things we can’t do which obviously Villanova can do,” Self said. “It wasn’t very good. It looked good in practice, though.”