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Kansas controls Villanova to seal title game trip

Sportsnaut
Apr 2, 2022; New Orleans, LA, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Ochai Agbaji (30) leads his team to the court before the game against the Villanova Wildcats during the 2022 NCAA men's basketball tournament Final Four semifinals at Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

NEW ORLEANS — Ochai Agbaji scored 21 points and shot the lights out in the Superdome to send Kansas to the national championship game with an 81-65 victory over Villanova on Saturday.

David McCormack had a season-high 25 points and collected nine rebounds and All-American Agbaji played a supporting role with six 3-pointers, tied for third-most in a single Final Four game with a host of others. Agbaji didn’t miss his first shot until his seventh try from long distance 30 minutes into the game.

McCormack made 10 of 12 field-goal attempts and helped Kansas strangle the Wildcats with 32 points in the paint.

But there was no easy answer for Jay Wright and Villanova (30-8) against McCormack. Clogging the lane kept the Jayhawks open from 3-point range, and KU drilled 13 of 24 attempts.

Christian Braun splashed a pair of 3s 90 seconds apart to separate Kansas from Villanova by 16 points and punctuate a stellar perimeter shooting display with 2:32 left before a parade of free throws began.

Kansas (33-6) made 10 of 13 from the line and scored on 34 of its 54 possessions.

Collin Gillespie led Villanova with 17 points, including 5 of 8 shooting from 3-point range. Brandon Slater chipped in 16 with four treys.

Approaching the under-4 media timeout and with the shot clock at 1, Braun hit all net on the left wing for a 3 that stretched Kansas’ lead back to double-digits at 71-59. Agbaji blocked Jermaine Samuels’ attempted answer at the other end and was fouled at the other end to send the Jayhawks into celebration mode.

Samuels converted a three-point play with 6:10 remaining, powering through Agbaji’s grasp, but Kansas got the answer on the other end with a lefty hook by McCormack to push the Jayhawks’ lead to 66-58.

Eric Dixon dropped in two free throws with 9:08 to go, trimming the Villanova deficit to 62-55. But after a stop, McCormack got easily gained position on Dixon and drew a foul. He bounced in both free throws and the KU lead was again nine.

The poster-worthy play of the game occurred at the 10:52 mark in the second half.

McCormack’s authoritative right-hand slam over the outstretched right arm and head of Samuels at the 10:52 mark gave the big man 19 points.

Villanova’s timeout permitted McCormack a moment in the spotlight of a game he’d helped dominate from the opening tip.

Kansas had seven 3-pointers in the first half and made its first two in the second to put Villanova in a 50-36 hole at the under-16 timeout.

Kansas held a comfortable advantage for the most of the first half and led 40-29 at halftime with Villanova scrapping to stay in it with 13 second-chance points.

With 10 missed 3-point tries in the first half, needed life came from Gillespie on Villanova’s third shot of its possession as the clock ticked toward the final minute.

He rattled in a 3 from the right wing in front of the Kansas bench. That cut the KU lead to single digits – 38-29 — for the first time since the 11:19 mark of the opening half.

Kansas will make its third national championship game appearance under Self and first since 2012. Jayhawks have 33 wins for the first time since 2015-16.

–By Jeff Reynolds, Field Level Media