By Ryan Mayer
Defense wins championships.
That old saying was never more evident than on Saturday night as the 2nd seeded Villanova Wildcats stifled the Kansas Jayhawks in a 64-59 win in Louisville to send Jay Wright’s team to the Final Four for the first time since 2009.
The Wildcats frustrated Kansas all night with a variety of different defensive looks and continued, active hands forcing loose balls and turnovers. The defensive effort was led by senior Ryan Arcidiacono, but the Wildcats got a huge game out of freshman Mekal Bridges who came up with two key steals late in the contest to help seal it.
Kansas’ Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden Jr. were held in check throughout the first half as they combined for just three points and the Jayhawks trailed at the break 32-25. They would open the second half on a quick 4-0 spurt to cut the lead to three, but Villanova would regain composure and the two teams continued to battle the rest of the way.
A 12-3 run from the Wildcats beginning at the 11:38 mark in the second half saw them turn a four point deficit into a five point lead. Back-and-forth play continued from that point on and led to the most controversial moment of the game.
With 34.0 seconds left and Villanova leading by two, 56-54, Kansas guard Devonte Graham had the ball poked away from him by Bridges. In attempting to regain possession, Graham dove to the floor and ended up sliding into the Wildcats’ Josh Hart, tripping him. The officials called a foul, Graham’s fifth, fouling him out. Villanova proceeded to get the inbounds pass to Arcidiacono, who was fouled by Frank Mason, which led to two free throws that put Villanova up four.
A three from Mason cut it back to one, but Villanova iced it with more free throws down the stretch. The Wildcats were led by a triumvirate of Hart, Arcidiacono, and Kris Jenkins, who each had thirteen points. They were joined in double figures by center Daniel Ochefu who had 10. Bridges made a huge impact defensively with five steals.
For the Jayhawks, the leading scorer was guard Devonte Graham (17), followed by Frank Mason III and Wayne Selden Jr., each with 16. Senior forward Perry Ellis in his final game in a Jayhawks uniform had a rough night recording just four points on 1-5 shooting.
Villanova will meet Oklahoma in a battle of the two seeds in Houston on Saturday.
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him.