Villanova reclaims national championship

Villanova wins national championship

SAN ANTONIO — After the second NBA-range three-pointer fell through the net in less than a minute, Donte DiVincenzo bounded back on defense with pep in his step but no emotion on his face.

The reserve guard finally marinated in the moment when a timeout was called. He earned not one but two chest bumps from teammates before thrusting an arm into the air, pointing toward the vast Villanova cheering section behind the team bench.

“Di-Vin-cen-zo!” the Wildcats fans roared inside the Alamodome. “Di-Vin-cen-zo!”

They can say that again. The Big East Conference’s sixth man of the year was the primary factor in the top-seeded Wildcats’ 79-62 conquest of third-seeded Michigan on Monday night in the NCAA tournament’s championship game.

DiVincenzo scored 18 of his career-high 31 points in the first half, providing the spark the Wildcats (36-4) needed to persevere through a slow start on the way to their second national title in three years. It was the most points ever scored off the bench in a championship game and earned DiVincenzo the Final Four’s most outstanding player award.

“I did not think that I was going to have this kind of night,” DiVincenzo said, “because every night I come into a game, I just try to bring energy.”

DiVincenzo said he preferred his two blocked shots to his offensive onslaught. He had a memorable rejection of Michigan’s Charles Matthews on a driving dunk attempt midway through the second half. Then came the two three-pointers in a span of 52 seconds that gave the Wildcats an 18-point lead with eight minutes left, erasing any lingering doubt about the outcome.

There would be no need for a buzzer-beating three-pointer to match the one that Kris Jenkins made against North Carolina in 2016. The Wildcats beat the Wolverines (33-8) by 17 points with only two players scoring in double figures.

“It just shows how much depth we have as a team and how we just don’t care who gets the credit,” said Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson, the national player of the year who scored just nine points and was perfectly fine with being upstaged. “If someone’s hot, feed them.”

Villanova was so good in so many facets that it easily shrugged off a subpar shooting performance in which it made 10 of 27 three-pointers. That total nevertheless added to the Wildcats’ records for three-pointers in an NCAA tournament (76) and a season (464).

Michigan’s Moritz Wagner scored 11 early points before being overcome by a torrent of emotion that earned him a technical foul early in the second half. Wagner had just been called for an offensive foul when he went chest to chest with Villanova’s Omari Spellman, who was also assessed a technical foul.

“I guess I wasn’t as aggressive anymore,” Wagner said after finishing with 16 points, “turned it over a couple times.”

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman added 23 for the Wolverines, who made only three of 23 three-pointers on the way to their second loss in a national title game under coach John Beilein.

There was some unsettling symmetry because the other defeat, against Louisville in 2013, came after Luke Hancock became the first player to come off the bench and win the Final Four’s most outstanding player award.

“We needed to play better,” Beilein said, “but even if we had played our best, it would have been very difficult with what DiVincenzo did. It was an incredible performance.”

In the minutes before tipoff, a fan stood several rows behind the Michigan bench and held up a yellow-and-blue sign acknowledging the magnitude of the challenge.

“Shock the World,” the sign read.

Even those rooting for the Wolverines seemed to realize they were likely to be outplayed by a team that won each of its NCAA tournament games by double figures.

Villanova featured the nation’s best offense and an ability to lull opponents into thinking they were every bit the Wildcats’ equal before quickly discovering otherwise during a flurry of Villanova points.

The Wolverines eventually found themselves buried under a hailstorm of three-pointers and dynamic playmaking that included DiVincenzo making 10 of 15 shots and forward Mikal Bridges adding 19 points.

Michigan’s defense actually did what it wanted for much of the first half. The Wolverines limited Villanova’s three-point attempts and closely contested the ones the Wildcats did take.

Villanova missed eight of its first nine three-pointers before DiVincenzo scored on a variety of moves, including a pull-up jumper following a head fake, a dunk, two driving layups in which he was fouled and three three-pointers.

The redshirt sophomore seemed most pleased by an assist he logged after whipping a pass underneath the basket to Spellman, who went up for a dunk. DiVincenzo wildly pumped his fist in excitement after what had once been a seven-point deficit for his team had become a six-point lead.

Villanova coach Jay Wright facetiously dubbed DiVincenzo “the Michael Jordan of Delaware” when he was a freshman because the native of the state was acting like a superstar.

“That became his name,” Wright said.

On Monday, it was a name that was well earned.