The previous Final Four record for 3-pointers in a game, which lasts 40 minutes, was 13 – done first by UNLV against Indiana in 1987 and matched by Duke against West Virginia in 2010. Villanova needed 16 minutes to equal that. At that moment, the Wildcats had made 15 baskets, only two of which were 2-pointers.
Here’s a breakdown on Villanova’s first-half hoops: Trey, trey, trey, deuce, trey, deuce, trey, trey, trey, trey, trey, trey, trey, trey, trey, deuce, deuce. The Final Four had never seen anything like it. I’m not sure college basketball ever had. It’s counter-intuitive to keep oohing and aahing when 20-footers-and-beyond keep falling when so many already have, but that’s what happened here. It was as if the Wildcats were asking us: “What – you expect us to start missing now?”
Midway through the second half, the electronic ribbon that rings the Alamodome and serves as a scoreboard went black. It would be too easy to say that the Wildcats had shot the lights out. It would not, however, be inaccurate. At that moment they’d made 17 treys – against Kansas, a fellow No. 1 seed that had stared down massively talented Duke in the Midwest Regional final. They’d taken a 10-point lead not four minutes into what was supposed to be the night’s main event. They rendered it a first-round KO.
Said Kansas coach Bill Self: “They got anything they wanted early. And then, of course, they made the most of it ... When we got spread out and our game plan went to crap, we got caught in between. The worst thing you can do defensively is be caught in between.”
Villanova won 95-79. It finished with 18 treys, there being no crying need for excess. They’d rendered proud Kansas helpless. They began the game by shredding the Jayhawks’ man-to-man defense, which prompted Self to switch, in desperation, to a zone. This worked for two minutes, allowing the trailing side to cut an 18-point deficit to 11. Then the Wildcats hit 3-pointers on four consecutive possessions. The lead was back to 17. A No. 1 seed would spend the game’s final 36 minutes trailing by double figures.
Of those record 18 treys, seven were the work of Villanova’s nominal big men – Eric Paschall and Omari Spellman, both of whom stand 6-foot-9 and weigh around 250 pounds. Of Villanova’s 36 baskets, 20 came via an assist. This team does the pace-and-space thing, the drive-and-kick thing, the catch-and-shoot thing. This team does darn near everything. It was the Big Dance’s overall top seed for a reason.
As we know, Villanova won the 2016 national championship on Kris Jenkins’ shot – a 3-pointer, don’t you know – at the buzzer. That team was really good. This one is better. That team played fast. This team is fast. That team shot it well. This team just made five more treys in a Final Four game than anybody ever. This team’s coach, Jay Wright, just spent the final 10 minutes of a national semifinal standing and watching with his hands in his pockets.
It was after a similar breathtaking semifinal display that many among us media types crowned Houston’s Phi Slama Jama the national champ. Then Jim Valvano and North Carolina State intervened. It’s possible Villanova could go 8-for-40 on 3-pointers Monday night, as opposed to this 18-for-40. It’s possible Michigan’s John Beilein could scheme up something and his Wolverines play out of their minds. It’s possible – but not probable.
Villanova has faced a tougher road than Michigan – the Wolverines have faced no opponent seeded better than No. 6; the Wildcats have beaten a No. 5, a No. 3 and now a No. 1 – and has obliterated all comers. Villanova’s average margin of victory in these five games is 17.8 points. Nobody has come closer than 12. Michigan might not, either.