Saturday's NCAA Tournament: Coach K's farewell tour off to Final Four, Villanova advances

Josh Dubow
Associated Press

San Francisco — Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s farewell tour is headed to his record-setting 13th Final Four after Duke overwhelmed Arkansas 78-69 on Saturday night in the Blue Devils’ most complete performance of this NCAA Tournament run.

A.J. Griffin scored 18 points, Paolo Banchero added 16 and and second-seeded Duke (32-6) frustrated fourth-seeded Arkansas (28-9) on the offensive end to get back to the Final Four for the first time since Krzyzewski won his fifth championship in 2015.

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski celebrates while cutting down the net after Duke defeated Arkansas.

Coach K will try to follow the path of the only coach to win more NCAA men’s titles as John Wooden won his 10th championship in his final season at UCLA in 1975. Krzyzewski broke the tie he had with Wooden for most Final Four appearances with the commanding win over the Razorbacks.

“I’m so happy. We call it crossing the bridge,” said Krzyzewski, who announced last summer this season would be his last. “There’s nothing like being a regional champ and going to the Final Four and playing on that Saturday with three other champions. It’s an amazing day.”

Duke’s upcoming matchup in New Orleans next Saturday will be historic either way – either its first NCAA Tournament meeting with archrival North Carolina or an unfathomable tangle in the national semifinals with 15th-seeded Saint Peter’s.

The Blue Devils were in control for most of the second half, using an 10-0 run after Arkansas had cut the deficit to five points early in the half to open up a big cushion. The spurt came following a timeout when Krzyzewski once again switched his team to an uncharacteristic zone after having success doing that in the Sweet 16 against Texas Tech.

Jaylin Williams ended that run with an emphatic dunk over Banchero for a three-point play but it wasn’t nearly enough for the Razorbacks, who didn’t cut the deficit into single digits until the final minute of the game.

Williams led Arkansas with 19 points and 10 rebounds and JD Notae had 14 points before fouling out. The Razorbacks shot 41.9% for the game.

Duke closed the first half on an 8-0 run to take a 45-33 lead at the break with Banchero hitting a 3-pointer to start the spurt. Trevor Keels hit another 3 from long range just before the buzzer.

South Region

Villanova 50, Houston 44: Jermaine Samuels had 16 points and 10 rebounds as Villanova advanced to its third NCAA Final Four in the last six NCAA Tournaments with a victory over Houston at San Antonio.

Caleb Daniels added 14 points for the Wildcats (30-7), and fifth-year senior Collin Gillespie's only made field goal was a clutch shot late.

Villanova forward Jermaine Samuels cuts the net after after their win against Houston.

With both teams willing to limit possessions, the first spot for this year's Final Four in New Orleans was settled in a game that was ugly to watch with all the missed shots.

Villanova shot 28.8% from the field (15 of 52). The Cougars were only slightly better at 29.8% (17 of 57), missing their last five shots and 10 of 11 overall, and they made only one of their of 20 attempted 3-pointers.

The Wildcats and coach Jay Wright won't complain as he seeks to add a third national title to the ones he won in 2016 and 2018. Villanova will play either Kansas, the only No. 1 seed remaining, or 10th-seeded Miami in the Final Four next Saturday in New Orleans as it seeks its fourth championship overall.

Taze Moore had 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Cougars (32-6), who were denied making consecutive Final Four appearances for the first time since 1982-84 during the Phil Slama Jama era. The starting five was completely changed from last season, including Moore and two other senior newcomers.

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 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, only about 200 miles from their campus, and the crowd was in a loud frenzy when Wright called timeout. They never got a chance to take the lead.

Villanova guard Caleb Daniels shoots over Houston guard Ramon Walker Jr.

Gillespie, who played in the national championship game for the Wildcats 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 about to run out. Those were their only second-chance points in the entire game.

Villanova had scored the first five points of the game, including a 3-pointer by Samuels on the first shot.