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Tournament Throwback: #1 Villanova vs. #3 Michigan (2018)

Donte DiVincenzo’s 31 points off the bench buried the Wolverines and captured the ‘Cats second title in three years

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Michigan vs Villanova Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Given the cancellation of this year’s NCAA Tournament, we have decided to use the next few weeks to look back and remember Villanova’s greatest tournament successes of the past. We will be walking through Villanova’s three National Championships on a game-by-game basis. So, as you’re locked inside quarantining and social distancing, share your thoughts, memories, and stories as we relive Villanova’s greatest moments.

Game Watch

Tune in to the VUHoops’ screening of the National Championship Game of the 2018 NCAA Tournament between #1 Villanova and #3 Michigan TONIGHT AT 7:00 p.m. EST.

The game should play simultaneously for all who are watching so please take part in the live game chat!

Special thanks to GaryMasseyThrowdown for providing us with game footage from the 2016 and 2018 National Championship runs!

Link: VUHoops Re-Watch

Villanova takes title, 79-62 over Michigan behind DiVincenzo

SAN ANTONIO — When he wasn’t dribbling behind his back, winking to the TV announcers, stuffing shots or dishing out assists, Villanova guard Donte DiVincenzo was making it rain.

First, 3-pointers.

Later on, confetti.

The redhead kid with the nickname Big Ragu came off the bench to make five 3s and score 31 points Monday to lift `Nova to another blowout victory in the NCAA Tournament — this time 79-62 over Michigan for its second national title in three seasons.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Michigan vs Villanova Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The sophomore guard had 12 points and an assist during a first-half run to help the Wildcats (36-4) pull ahead, then scored nine straight for Villanova midway through the second to snuff out the Wolverines. He capped the second shooting skein with a 3-pointer from a step behind the arc. He punctuated it with a knowing wink over to the sideline, where TV announcers Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery were sitting.

Yep, he knew he could do it. And his teammates were more than willing to let him steal the show.

”If someone’s hot, feed `em,” said Jalen Brunson, the national Player of the Year, who finished with nine points and was perfectly fine with playing a supporting role on this night.

In taking the program’s third overall title, Villanova won all six games by double digits over this tournament run, joining Michigan State (2000), Duke (2001) and North Carolina (2009) in that rare air.

The last team to win its two Final Four games by 16 or more: UCLA in 1968. During the dynasty.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Michigan vs Villanova Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

One key question: Does Jay Wright’s team belong on the list of the best of all-time?

Maybe so, considering the way Villanova dismantled everyone in front of it in a tournament that was dripping with upsets, underdogs and at least the appearance of parity.

Maybe so, considering the Wildcats won in seemingly every way imaginable. This victory came two nights after they set a Final Four record with 18 3-pointers (they had 10 in this one), and one week after they relied more on defense in a win over Texas Tech in the Elite Eight.

”We don’t really look at it that way,” Wright said. “We don’t look at it as, did we just dominate that team? No. We played well.”

And really, that debate’s for later.

DiVincenzo squashed any questions about this game with a 10-for-15 shooting night — 5 for 7 from 3 -that was, frankly, better than that. He was a no-doubt winner of the Final Four’s most-outstanding-player award.

With Michigan trying to stay in striking range early in the second half, he opened his game-sealing run with an around-the-back dribble to get to the hoop and get fouled. On the other end, he delivered a two-handed rejection of Michigan’s Charles Matthews — his second block of the game, to go with five rebounds and three assists — when Matthews tried to bring it into the paint.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Michigan vs Villanova Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The 3 that capped things off came from a big step behind the arc and gave Villanova a 62-44 lead with 7:58 left.

”Honestly, I didn’t look at the score at all,” DiVincenzo said. “I didn’t know how many points I had. I didn’t know any of that. I was just trying to make the right play. And Omari (Spellman) was setting unbelievable screens for me getting me open. And I was just feeling it.”

About the only drama at the end was whether DiVincenzo could unwrap himself from his teammates’ mob hug to hurl the ball underhanded toward the rafters after the buzzer. He succeeded there, too.

”Sometimes I think about whether I’m a good defender, because in practice, he makes me look bad,” said junior Mikal Bridges, who likely made this his final audition for the NBA with a 19-point night on 7-for-12 shooting.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Michigan vs Villanova Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

What a couple of months it’s been for Philly. First the Eagles. Now this. The Super Bowl, though, was a classic. This one was only beautiful to one team.

Michigan (33-8) came out playing tough-nosed defense it relied on over a 14-game winning streak that got the Wolverines to their second final in six years.

Moe Wagner scored 11 early points to pick up where he left off in a dominating performance in the semifinal. Villanova started 1 for 9 from 3-point range. And yet, after DiVincenzo banged down a 3 from a step behind the arc for Villanova’s second of the night, coach John Beilein looked at the scoreboard and saw his team behind, 23-21.

”The way DiVincenzo shot the ball, it was just incredible for us to try to win that game with the roll he went on,” the coach said.

If his first 3 wasn’t demoralizing enough, DiVincenzo made another, then took a bounce pass from Brunson for a dunk, then paid it forward with an assist to Spellman. It was part of a 23-7 run that gave the Wildcats a nine-point lead at halftime; they never looked back.

DiVincenzo competed hard for a starting spot this year, but didn’t win it. He made the best of it as a sixth man. Wright waited all of 52 seconds in the second half to get him back on the floor.

”It just shows how much depth we have, and that we don’t care who gets the credit,” Brunson said.

Though he didn’t play in the 2016 Final Four, DiVincenzo got his fair share of credit for that title, too.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Michigan vs Villanova Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

His season cut short because of a knee injury, he was healthy enough to run the scout squad for Villanova. Some on the team said he was better at doing Oklahoma star Buddy Hield than Hield himself.

But maybe a more apt comparison is to ... Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?

DiVincenzo joins them in the rare club of players to crack 30 points while also shooting better than 66 percent from the floor in a Final Four game.

Juggernaut Villanova Crushes Michigan to Win N.C.A.A. Championship


SAN ANTONIO — Juggernauts are not supposed to look like this, without a superstar, a catchy nickname, a lineup of future N.B.A. All-Stars or the air of intimidation that is palpable even in layup lines. Villanova has none of these things.

History, though, will look back at these Wildcats and their tactical, almost apologetic dominance throughout their six games in this N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament as a team that was, perhaps, just one or two steps ahead of the rest of the 350 laggards in Division I, a field that was forced to watch — mouths agape — revolutionary basketball unfold before them.

Villanova did not need to hit 18 3-pointers against Michigan in the national title game on Monday, as it did in dismantling Kansas in its semifinal. But the Wildcats found a multitude of other ways to outflank and outfinesse another opponent, this time on college basketball’s biggest stage, in a 79-62 win over the Wolverines before a crowd of 67,831 at the Alamodome.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Michigan vs Villanova Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

It was the Wildcats’ second national championship in three years, and while it was a younger team than the one that beat North Carolina with a buzzer-beater in 2016, it is unquestionably better. Only three other teams since 1985 have won each of their games in the N.C.A.A. tournament by double-digits, as Villanova did.

“This,” Villanova Coach Jay Wright said of winning a second title, “is out of my comprehension.”

Michigan did have answers for five of Villanova’s top players, but not its sixth: Donte DiVincenzo, who came off the bench and scored 31 points. He fueled a comeback in the first half and put on a show in the second, scoring 11 straight points midway through the half to build Villanova’s lead to 16.

Michigan Coach John Beilein sat on his stool with a puzzled look. If it wasn’t DiVincenzo, it seemed, it would have been someone else. With Villanova, there was always somebody.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Michigan vs Villanova Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

“Honestly, we never know,” Villanova forward Eric Paschall said. “We have so many talented dudes that can just get going. We don’t know who’s going to have a good night. Tonight, it was Donte.”

The blowout capped a season that began, unofficially, in the early morning of Sept. 26, the day federal officials publicly disclosed a covert investigation into widespread corruption in the shadowy swale of college basketball recruiting, further puncturing the sport’s claim to sanctity. Ten men had been arrested, including four Division I assistants, and within days, Rick Pitino, the Hall of Fame coach at Louisville, was out of a job. The news lingered over the rest of the season.

There will be more on that. But the N.C.A.A. got something of a pass at the Final Four this time, when the tournament’s most prominent figure became Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, and the games more subtly revealed a different tectonic shift in the sport.

Beilein and his Villanova counterpart, Jay Wright, might not have imagined the way that offense would evolve when they first crossed paths, in tiny high school gyms in upstate New York in 1984 — Wright as a first-time assistant at the University of Rochester, Beilein a 41-year-old journeyman coach at Division II LeMoyne College. But they reached this pinnacle by largely ignoring the blue-chip prospects eager to rush through to the N.B.A. Instead, they brought the N.B.A. style to college.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Michigan vs Villanova Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Wright, in particular, loaded his lineup with talented shooters of all sizes, reminding scouts of a successful franchise at the next level: the Golden State Warriors. His team set an N.C.A.A. record for 3-pointers this season, and the Wildcats’ 18 baskets from beyond the arc in their win Saturday over Kansas were by far the most in a Final Four game.

“They present problems that most college teams can never present,” the ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said. “The go-to guy on this team is the open man.”

Beilein’s system was always inventive during his previous coaching job at West Virginia — remember Kevin Pittsnogle? — but he acknowledged that he had evolved, too. He built his Michigan offense around an even more versatile big man: Moritz Wagner, who, at 6 feet 11 inches, was reminiscent of the Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki.

Wagner scored 9 of Michigan’s first 11 points on Monday, as the Wolverines found easy buckets in the early minutes. On the other end, Michigan’s length and defensive pressure clogged the passing lanes where Villanova thrives to generate open shots. Everything was contested. The Wildcats missed eight of their first nine 3-pointers.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Michigan vs Villanova Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

In the Villanova huddle, the players calmly said, “attitude” — a mantra of this program, meant to help maintain composure. And then, a surprising spark caught fire off the bench.

It fit the pregame prayer delivered by the team’s chaplain, Father Rob Hagan, and his message from Saint Paul about sharing strength. It hardly surprised any of DiVincenzo’s teammates, though, when he provided the offensive jolt.

“If you keep finding him, he’s going to keep knocking down shots,” the freshman guard Collin Gillespie said. “Early on, I kind of knew.”

DiVincenzo scored 18 of Villanova’s first 32 points. While his teammates hit just five of their first 17 shots, he rallied the Wildcats to a halftime lead, 37-28.

“Honestly, when I got into the game, all I was trying to do was play hard,” DiVincenzo said. “I just wanted to help my team offensively.”

Michigan was said to be the team of destiny a year ago, after its plane slid off a runway before the Big Ten tournament, inspiring a furious winning streak that ended in the N.C.A.A.’s round of 16.

But a team-bonding trip this summer to a paintball facility in Pinckney, Mich., revealed to the coaching staff a cohesive, fun-loving group sprinkled with freshmen and seniors, each with a surprising killer instinct.

Michigan was 9-5 this season when trailing at halftime, including Saturday’s comeback victory against Loyola-Chicago, which propelled the Wolverines to the national championship game for the first time since 2013, when they lost to Louisville.

But even after their record-setting offensive show on Saturday, Villanova’s players insisted their performance was only possible because of their defense. A team meeting in February refocused the Wildcats on the defensive end; their offense was reliable enough.

On nights when shots were not falling, though, Villanova needed to make sure it could find other ways to win — like it did Monday. Jalen Brunson showed flashes of frustration, Omari Spellman was neutralized and Paschall was conspicuously quiet.

Yet Villanova outrebounded Michigan, 38-27, and held the Wolverines to only three 3-pointers.

“I don’t care if you go back 20 years,” Beilein said, “they would win a lot of Final Fours.”

An unlikely hero emerged. The juggernaut rolled on.

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