SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Villanova coach Jay Wright has won national championships with well-balanced and fundamentally sound teams, yet even he knew staying in contention for another title was going to take a rugged and exhaustive effort.
Jermaine Samuels, a 6-foot-7-inch senior forward from Franklin, Mass., scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead second-seeded Villanova to a Final Four berth with a 50-44 victory over fifth-seeded Houston in the NCAA South Region final at AT&T Center.
The Wildcats and Wright will seek to add a third national title to the ones won in 2016 and 2018. Villanova, which will be making its seventh Final Four appearance, will play either Kansas, the only No. 1 seed remaining, or No. 10 seed Miami on Saturday in New Orleans.
The Wildcats are 20-3 in NCAA tourney games since 2016.
“It’s crazy, extremely grateful,’’ said Samuels, who as a bench reserve witnessed firsthand Villanova’s last trip to the Final Four in 2018. “It’s crazy how things come full circle.”
Caleb Daniels, a 6-4 senior guard who will be headed home to New Orleans, added 12 points for the Wildcats (30-7).
Villanova’s six-man rotation was dealt a huge blow by an injury to guard Justin Moore in the game’s final minute. He was dribbling against a defender, and looked like he slipped and fell, then went back down after trying to get up. He was on crutches during the Wildcats’ postgame celebration.
Houston, after never trailing in their Sweet 16 win over top-seeded Arizona, never led against Villanova. Taze Moore was the only player in double figures for the Cougars (32-6) with 15 points on 6-for-20 shooting, making Houston’s only 3-pointer out of 20 overall attempts. He also had 10 rebounds.
“You just knew watching this team defensively, like you weren’t going to come out and just outscore them,” Wright said. “We really weren’t talking as much at the end about how we were going to score. We were talking about how we were going to stop them.”
After Villanova missed three shots on the same possession — and was still without any second-chance points in the game — Moore got the long rebound on the break. After initially slowing things down, Moore scored on a drive against Collin Gillespie, getting Houston within 42-40 with 5:25 left.
It was the closest the Cougars had been in the game at AT&T Center, which is only about 200 miles from their campus. The crowd was in a loud frenzy when Wright called timeout.
They never got a chance to take the lead.
Gillespie, who played in the national championship game in 2018, was 1-of-6 shooting. But his only field goal came on the possession after the timeout when he stepped inside the 3-point line and hit a jumper with 5:02 left.
There was a nearly two-minute scoring drought before Justin Moore made two free throws, with a foul by J’Wan Roberts bailing out the Wildcats with the shot clock winding down. It was Villanova’s only second-chance basket of the game.