3234 days and about 60 degrees separate the last time Villanova met a number 2 ranked Kansas squad. The method was a little different, but the result was the beautiful same. The Villanova Wildcats stunned the Kansas Jayhawks 63-59 in the semi-final round of the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament off a Ryan Arcidiacono three pointer with just seconds remaining.
Four Wildcats scored in double digits with Dylan Ennis leading the way with 14 points on a perfect 3 for 3 from distance. James Tahj Bell and JayVaughn Pinkston struggled from the field, shooting a combined 6-22 from the floor, but still managed to score 10 and 13, respectfully. Hillilard played another great all around game, netting 13 and grabbing six boards.
Kansas fans had reason to cheer early as a tip-slam by Wayne Selden Jr. sparked a 11-2 run to start the game. The Jayhawk big men immediately highlighted Villanova's vertical deficiencies. Tarik Black, Perry Ellis, and Joel Embiid all left their mark on the scoreboard during the initial run.
Coach Wright made his strategy clear to start the game. At halftime he acknowledged what everyone already knew, admitting that "We're not the biggest team and they've got great size...we can't get into a tight half-court game." While it looked ugly at times (okay, most of the time), much maligned Daniel Ochefu did his part to get the Kansas big men into foul trouble; he demonstrated competent drives from the free throw line that resulted in fouls in multiple occasions. When the dust settled, three of the Jayhawks' top four bigs had at least two fouls at the end of the first half.
As the rest of the offense struggled to find its rhythm, Darrun Hilliard kept the game close early, knocking down three triples in five possessions to bring the score to 14-16.
From there, that scrappy defense Jay alluded to took over. Incredibly intense trapping defense and active hands threw the Kansas offense off balance and visibly reeling. Tony Chennault in particular created multiple turnovers and consistent havoc for his opponents.
At the end of the first half, Villanova held a 29-22 lead.
The second half, however, proved to be an entirely different ball game. The Wildcat's expended much of their energy creating havoc on defense in the first half, and when paired with foul trouble, their was a noticeable regression of defensive intensity. Ochefu hit the bench early, picking up his fourth foul within the opening minute of the half.
Andrew Wiggins played a very quiet game. The intense Wildcat defense held him to just ten points on seven shots. Another Kansas star, Wayne Selden Jr, only managed two points.
While Josh Hart and Dylan Ennis tried to keep the Jayhawks at bay with solid shooting from distance. Kansas slowly began to creep back into the game. After trailing 57-46, the Big XII favorite went on a 10-0 run on the back of Embiid. Frank Mason Jr pushed his team ahead to a 59-58 lead with 33 seconds left.
After a failed attempt to drive the ball by Hilliard, resulting in a jump ball, Jay wright drew up a beauty. Ryan Arcidiacono curled off a double screen and found himself catching the ball in an all-too familiar spot. Rising from virtually the exact same spot on the court last year versus Syracuse, he released, followed through the outstretched arms of Perry Ellis, and watched the ball swish through the net; all memories of his previous five misses from distance erased.
After a Kansas miss, James Tahj Bell grabbed the rebound and iced the game with two silky smooth free throws. Game. Set. Match. Wildcats win 63-59. Grab your Mike's Hard everyone and savor the night.
Villanova will face the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Championship Round tomorrow at 9:30 PM on NBC Sports Network.