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Shoot ‘Em Up, Sleep in the Streets: Breaking Down Villanova’s Record-Breaking Final Four

Villanova set the record for threes in a Final Four game Saturday and for the most in a single season, but the Wildcats didn’t just shoot for the sake of shooting, they shot with a purpose. The results were glorious.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Villanova vs Kansas Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova made 18 threes Saturday night in its Final Four beat down of the Kansas Jayhawks. The Wildcats tied UNLV’s record of 13 threes, one that was 31 years old, in one half of basketball. There was no luck involved. This was their plan.

The Wildcats took a staggering 61.5% of their shots from range, hitting 45.0% of them. Six players hit two or more threes and, most astonishingly, the Wildcats made it look easy. Villanova had a game plan and it executed it to perfection. It blitzed Kansas to start, adjusted when its opponent countered, and ran away with it before Kansas could get a foothold. It was a record-breaking performance and one that deserves to be both dissected and admired.

The Dribble Drive or What to Do When Things Are Already Out of Hand

At the 18:39 mark in the first half, Villanova hit three number one. By the time Eric Paschall hammered home a thunderous put back to make it 14-4 at the under-16 timeout, Villanova had hit four.

The number, while impressive, is not what had Bill Self reeling. It was how the threes were going down. Over the 2:35 period that the Wildcats hit their four threes, Villanova made each by driving into the paint and kicking to an open shooter.

In the clip above, Phil Booth finds himself guarded by Svi Mykhailiuk. A gifted shooter, Mykhailiuk isn’t known for being the most fleet of foot and Booth takes advantage, driving baseline into the teeth of the KU defense.

As Booth enters the paint, two opposite things occur: VU shooters Omari Spellman and Mikal Bridges get to shooting spots, while KU defenders watch Booth. Booth makes the sensational bounce pass to Bridges, who has ample time to size up and knock down his shot.

While Booth’s dribble drive took some impressive vision and execution, the fourth three in Villanova’s sequence had to have hurt Kansas the most. The ease with which Jalen Brunson blows by Devonte’ Graham and finds an open Omari Spellman is staggering.

Even more concerning for the Jayhawks had to be Udoka Azubuike’s defending. Azubuike, known for patrolling the paint, sags to stop the drive. Brunson, however has no interest in taking it to the rim. Instead, he finds Spellman, who has time to set his feet and square up before Azubuike gets outside the paint.

This was Spellman’s second consecutive three, and it effectively forced Bill Self to abandon the Udoka Azubuike experience. The KU big man would play only 26 minutes in the game, unable to chase the likes of Eric Paschall and Omari Spellman around the perimeter.

The Pick and Roll or When Defense Two is Worse Than the First One

After the initial barrage of threes from the Wildcats, Kansas did what any team would do: Something else. That something else was a combination of trapping the Villanova ball-handler in pick-and-roll and showing a zone look following made baskets. Like an artist exploring a new medium, Villanova found a new way to craft genius from distance.

Already up 19-4 and having seen some of Kansas’s new defensive looks, Mikal Bridges handles the ball and and receives a screen from Eric Paschall. When Paschall rolls to the rim, his defender, Marcus Garrett, pops out to double Bridges to force a sideways pass. Bridges, however has other plans.

“Gimmie Three Youngin’!”

Villanova’s superstar junior delivers a perfect pass over the top to Eric Paschall. Paschall is at the rim and has a chance to finish, but reminds himself that three is indeed worth more than two. Like clockwork, Collin Gillespie spots up in the corner. Paschall delivers the bounce pass and some words of encouragement, picked up clearly by a nearby microphone: “Gimmie three youngin’!

Three of Villanova’s four threes over a stretch of 4:32 starting at the 14:15 mark would come from a similar pick-and-roll formula. Kansas would aggressively over-pursue a Wildcat ball-handler, and Villanova would make the right pass or two to find the open shot. Easy money.

The Off the Dribble or When it’s Jalen Brunson’s World

From 8:47 until 5:02 in the first half, Jalen Brunson was unstoppable. The National Player of the Year and Villanova leader assisted on one three and hit three himself, pushing the Villanova lead to 15 points. The three threes Brunson hit came off the dribble and were unassisted. He was personally ruining Kansas.

What can you say about the clip above? Brunson has very little interest in utilizing the screen Damir Cosby-Roundtree is trying to set. Instead, he has his sites set on nailing a three from near NBA range and he’s chosen to torment Lagerald Vick in the process. Brunson nearly sends Vick to the FT line with his first hesitation, from then it’s over.

For the most part, the ‘Cats had no need to settle for threes off the bounce. Of the 18 the team knocked down on the night, only four were of this variety, three of which came from Brunson towards the end of the half. Sometimes, though, you just gotta do it to ‘em.

When It’s All Working

Villanova’s shooting on the night was spectacular to behold, and the individual performances of Eric Paschall and Jalen Brunson will go down in Wildcat lore. All that said, what the team did from a strategy and execution standpoint was most impressive of all.

Jay Wright concocted a game plan that was equal parts genius and diabolical for Saturday. In the first four minutes he blitzed KU’s weak man defense and forced Bill Self to reconsider the minutes he planned to give to two of his best five players.

When the Jayhawks showed Villanova a different look, the Wildcats showed KU a different kind of offense. Self and Kansas took away the dribble drive, so Villanova moved the ball laterally and vertically with pace, exploiting the 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 situations that resulted from Kansas double teams. By the time the dust settled and Jalen wrecked his havoc, Villanova was up 15 and heading to the locker room having already tied the Final Four record for threes.

Fittingly, Eric Paschall would take down the record, making a preposterous three from Kris Jenkins range as the shot clock expired. While there was some luck involved with his shot, make no mistake, nothing was lucky about what Villanova did to Kansas. The team broke records and defenses, and that was exactly what they were planning on doing the whole time.