Villanova vies for 2nd title in 3 years vs. Michigan
No. 1-seeded Villanova will attempt to capture its second national championship in three years when it battles Michigan on Monday night in San Antonio.
The Wildcats (35-4), the top seed in the East, put on a shooting clinic in dispatching Kansas 95-79 in the national semifinal on Saturday night. They hit 18 shots from beyond the 3-point arc to set a Final Four record, breaking the previous mark of 13.
Michigan (33-7), which has already set a single-season record for victories, will play in its seventh national championship game in program history. The Wolverines rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second half to upend NCAA darling Loyola-Chicago 69-57.
Villanova was unexpectedly led by junior Eric Paschall, who shot an incredible 10 of 11 from the field and finished with 24 points. Only UCLA's Bill Walton had a better shooting night in a Final Four matchup, when he was 21 of 22 in 1973.
The balanced Wildcats also received 18 points from Jalen Brunson along with 15 points and 13 rebounds from Omari Spellman.
Villanova has won games in a variety of ways through the NCAA Tournament. Even when 3-pointers weren't dropping in the Elite Eight against Texas Tech (4 of 24), the Wildcats found other ways to win -- like hitting 29 of 35 free throws.
Their defensive effort has been consistent through the entire season.
"Obviously we're very talented offensively," Brunson said. "We have a lot of weapons offensively, but when it comes to us staying together on defense, that's what makes it special and we're going to keep getting better and keep getting better (Sunday) and be ready for Monday."
Spellman, a freshman, is one of the best shooting big men in the country. If shots aren't falling, he'll look for other ways to win.
"Just coming out, ready to compete and defend and rebounding and continue to do what we do," Spellman said. "We don't pride ourselves on shooting the ball well. We pride ourselves on defending and rebounding, and that's our true measure of success in playing Villanova basketball. So we're definitely going to look to come out and do that on Monday."
Villanova won the national championship in 1985 and 2016, with a potential third title sitting one game away. Legendary coach Rollie Massimino guided the '85 team and he was in attendance in '16. He passed away about six months ago.
"You don't even -- you can't say it's a dream come true because you don't even dream about it. You don't dream about getting two out of three years, you don't think about it. I don't," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. "So it's hard to even comprehend it.
"And not having Coach Mass this year, I personally miss him a great deal. And at times walking out before the game, in the hotel, I can hear when the crowd's going crazy and I know he walked in."
Michigan will play Villanova for the fifth time ever and the second time in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats defeated Michigan 59-55 in the second round of the '85 NCAA Tournament.
Michigan will play in its first championship game since 2013, and a victory over Villanova would close its season with 15 consecutive wins.
Moritz Wagner was scintillating against Loyola-Chicago with 24 points and 15 rebounds while shooting 10 of 16. Wagner became only the third player to post at least 20 points and 15 rebounds in a national semifinal game and the first since 1983.
Wagner, a 6-foot-11 junior, was only the third player to score 20-plus points with 15-plus rebounds in a national semifinal game, joining Larry Bird in 1979 and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1983.
"Wow. If you put it like that, that's probably cool," Wagner told reporters. "But to be honest, I kept looking possession by possession. ... And I honestly just tried to do my job."
Michigan's unlikely season will continue after going 19-7 through the first 26 games as it tries to win its second career national championship.
"This team's had no attention at all," Michigan head coach John Beilein said. "Until we went up to beat Michigan State we weren't nationally ranked. Now we're playing on Monday night."
Updated April 1, 2018