'Tremendous' Villanova crushes Michigan's title hopes
San Antonio — All that separated Michigan from lasting glory was 40 minutes and one of the nation’s best offenses.
The third-seeded Wolverines were up to the test much of the first half. They frustrated Villanova star guard and player of the year Jalen Brunson, and limited star forward Mikal Bridges.
But Michigan had no answer all game long for Villanova sixth man Donte DiVincenzo, who keyed a backbreaking 23-7 run and hit big shot after big shot to push the Wildcats past the Wolverines, 79-62, in the national title game Monday at the Alamodome.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored 23, Moritz Wagner 16 and Zavier Simpson 10 for Michigan (33-8), which shot 3-for-23 from 3-point range and fell to 1-6 all-time in the national championship game.
DiVincenzo finished with a career-high 31 points (10-for-15 shooting) and Bridges scored 19 for Villanova (36-4), which shot 47.4 percent (27-for-57) from the field and won its second title in three seasons.
DiVincenzo was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four and scored the most points by a non-starter in the championship game, surpassing the 22 scored by Louisville’s Luke Hancock against Michigan in 2013.
“I've been coaching a long time and played against some really good teams and they played like national champions,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “It's really a tremendous basketball team we lost to. We're not going to hang our heads. We're going to move on, learn from it and really cherish all the memories from this season.”
After Michigan struggled to close out the first half and Villanova’s offense began to heat up, the Wildcats picked right up where they left off in the second half.
Within the blink of an eye, Villanova ripped off seven straight points — five from Eric Paschall on a 3-pointer and layup — to quickly extend its lead to 44-30 and put Michigan in danger with 18:11 to play.
Matters continued to worsen for Michigan as Wagner drew an offensive foul and a technical foul — along with Villanova’s Omari Spellman — on the same play and the Wildcats used a 3-pointer by Bridges two possessions later to push their advantage to 51-33 at the 14:37 mark.
The Wolverines used an 8-3 run with four points from Charles Matthews on a dunk and layup to gain some semblance of momentum and claw within 56-44 with 9:08 to go.
But DiVincenzo quickly stemmed the tide with a pair of dagger 3-pointers — and a wink as he trotted back down the court — to put Villanova up 62-44 a minute later.
"We talk about chopping the tree down. You can't chop a tree down when you chop it one time and then the next time down they just hit a big shot,” freshman forward Isaiah Livers said. “When a guy is going like that, it's just tough on a team. Their crowd gets loud, team looks down. Just got to have an answer next time.”
Abdur-Rahkman made four free throws to cut the deficit to 14 at the 6:43 mark before Bridges drove a stake into Michigan’s title hopes with a pair of deep 3-pointers during a 10-2 surge that put the game out of reach, 74-52, with 3:50 to go.
“That’s March Madness for you — an emotional roller coaster,” freshman guard Jordan Poole said. “You either go super high and if you don’t win it all, you are at your lowest point.”
The first six minutes unfolded like a heavyweight title bout as both teams came out swinging. Brunson went right at Simpson and knocked down two tough baskets on Villanova’s first two possessions of the game. Wagner countered with nine points on a pair of layups, two free throws and a 3-pointer as Michigan got off to a hot start and roared out to a 14-8 lead with 13:17 left in the first half.
The Wolverines continued to take the fight to the Wildcats with five straight points to grab their largest lead of the game, 21-14, after Poole knifed his way to a basket for a nifty layup plus the foul and Wagner scored on another layup with 10:59 left.
But Villanova’s defense eventually began to figure things out and Michigan’s offense cooled off dramatically. The Wolverines missed 13 of their final 16 shots of the half with a pair of three-plus minute scoring droughts sprinkled in.
"They did a good job defending us, but we did a poor job executing as well,” Matthews said. “A lot of turnovers and a lot of plays that we were sloppy on and causing us to take shots we didn't want to take. I give them credit defensively, but we just weren't at our best today either.”
The Wildcats took full advantage of the cold spells and showed off their firepower by closing the half on a 23-7 run. It started with a 9-0 flurry that started with a jumper and ended with a 3-pointer by DiVincenzo to put Villanova ahead, 23-21, at the 6:08 mark.
Abdur-Rahkman provided a brief respite and stopped an 0-for-7 shooting slide for Michigan with a driving layup to tie the score before DiVincenzo struck again with five straight points for Villanova on a 3-pointer and layup to make it 30-26 with 4:07 left in the half.
The Wolverines pulled within 30-28 at the 3:34 mark following a Matthews dunk, but hit another rough patch and missed their last six shots. Villanova made Michigan pay as Brunson capped a 7-0 run with a 3-pointer to put the Wolverines in a 37-28 hole at the break and a damper on their postseason run.
“I would’ve loved to win a national championship for those guys and for the University of Michigan,” Beilein said. “This is life. This is a great part of life that you have these highlights and all of a sudden in the blink of an eye, your season is over and there's sadness. But in the long run, there's a lot of joy in what we just went through.”