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Villanova 64, Kansas 59

Villanova drops Kansas, advances to Final Four

Guard Josh Hart (3) celebrates with the trophy after Villanova defeated Kansas in the South Regional final Saturday.Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports
Villanova64
Kansas59

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kris Jenkins made two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining, Jalen Brunson added two more with 3.5 seconds left, and second-seeded Villanova upset top-seeded Kansas, 64-59, on Saturday night to win the South Region final and advance to the Final Four.

The Wildcats will face Oklahoma next Saturday in Houston.

Mikal Bridges and Josh Hart each made big steals in the final minute to help the Wildcats (33-5) end the Jayhawks’ 17-game winning streak. The Wildcats are back in the Final Four for the first time since 2009, and they can credit balanced scoring and ferocious defense.

Jenkins, Hart, and Ryan Arcidiacono each scored 13 points for the Wildcats. They used a 10-0 run to take a 50-45 lead and get key baskets and plays down the stretch in beating the Jayhawks (33-5).

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Devonte’ Graham had 17 points, and Frank Mason III and Wayne Selden Jr. added 16 each for Kansas.

Villanova got 10 points from Daniel Ochefu, including a big jumper with 6:14 left, just one of many big plays the Wildcats made to preserve the lead after finally wresting it from Kansas.

It wasn’t easy. Mason scored 5 points and the Jayhawks cut it to 60-59 with 15 seconds left. But Arcidiacono preceded that with four free throws before Jenkins and Brunson followed with two more as the Wildcats made 18 of 19 at the line and all eight in the final 33 seconds.

Darryl Reynolds had two free throws and Bridges had a key tip-in for the Wildcats.

Villanova gets to pursue its second national title in its fifth Final Four berth, though the NCAA vacated its 1971 appearance because star Howard Porter had signed with an agent.

More importantly, the Wildcats did what no team had been able to over two months and really wasn’t expected to in knocking out the tournament favorite.

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Both teams had been ranked No. 1 this season and have been winning even bigger in the tournament. Villanova winning by an average margin of 24 points. Kansas has been just as strong, winning by 18 points per game while grabbing 13 more rebounds per game.

This Elite Eight matchup seemed inevitable as a result, with Villanova coach Jay Wright comparing it to a heavyweight bout.

The underdog Wildcats succeeded with defense that kept the ball away from Kansas and especially leading scorer Perry Ellis, who managed just 4 points.

This strategy worked all night and helped the Wildcats lead, 32-25, at halftime.

Villanova trailed, 7-4, as Kansas got baskets inside before the Wildcats regrouped to score 6 straight points and briefly lead, 10-7. Kansas then answered with a 9-2 run for a 16-12 edge that marked its last lead of the half.

Villanova’s zone defense had a lot to do with that, keeping Kansas from taking control in the paint and holding Ellis scoreless in the first half. Kansas eventually went scoreless for nearly seven minutes and Villanova took advantage with a 13-0 run for a 25-16 lead that had the Jayhawks out of sorts.

Graham’s two 3-pointers helped bring Kansas to 29-25, but Jenkins’s 3-pointer right before halftime reclaimed the momentum for the Wildcats.

Kansas seemed to have control at 45-40 before Villanova mounted the comeback that has the Wildcats in the Final Four despite shooting 40 percent and being outrebounded, 32-28.

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They just made the plays when they needed them.