(WINDSOR, ON) – For the second time in three years, the No.1 seeded Villanova Wildcats are kings of the court at the end of the March Madness quest for gold. This time they stopped the Big 10 champion Michigan Wolverines in their tracks, 79-62, last night at the Alamodome in San Antonio, TX, largely thru the wisdom of head coach Jay Wright.
Midway thru the first half, the No. 3 Wolverines appeared to be in control of the contest, at which point they briefly enjoyed a 21-14 lead. Thereafter, coach Wright made a brilliant decision to go deep in his bench to release the hounds.
When reserve guard Donte DiVincenzo was inserted into the game, with approximately 11 minutes left in the half, he practically single handily snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, to use a long lost epitaph.
Prior to his entry, Michigan’s game plan was to force Villanova’s sharp-shooting guards and bigs off the perimeter and into the core of Michigan’s scrappy shot altering interior defense. Apparently, DiVencenzo did not get the memo, as he began his one man dismantling of the Wolverines with a strong left hand lay-up thru the heart of the defense.
At first it seemed harmless enough, but what followed was nothing short of spectacular. A one-man offensive and defensive show until the fire caught on with the Villanova starters, who could not solve Michigan’s momentum prior to being bailed out by the freshman.
DiVencenzo’s spark resulted in the Wildcats outscoring the Wolverines 23-7 before the half. They went to the locker room up by 9 with a 37-28 lead. The rookie sensation scored 18 of those swing points, practically unassisted.
In the end DiVencenzo amassed 31 points, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and a game-high 2 blocks. Good enough for the Final Four MVP award.
His no-call, two hand block of a would-be momentum shifting, second consecutive dunk by Charles Mathews, after stuffing a two-hander away of his own, was the pivotal play of the 2nd half, just as Michigan began showing life. The Wolverines had clawed their way to within 10 points after being down 19, but could never get it under 15 shortly thereafter.
The Wildcats were only half as good from the outside as they were with their record breaking shooting from beyond the arc while beating Kansas in their Saturday semi-final. They dropped only 10-of-27, and 47.7% percent overall, but bested the 3-for-23 and 43.3% for which Michigan had to settle. Nova also outworked the Wolverines 38-27 on the boards.
Overshadowed individually by the spectacular play of his rookie protege, Villanova starting point guard Jalen Brunson, the Naismith Trophy winner as NCAA player of the year, only managed 9 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. Guard-forward Mikal Bridges scored 19 points as the only other Wildcat in double figures, besides DiVincenzo.
The freshman also, at 37 minutes, clocked more floor time than every other player on both teams.
Although Michigan’s top gun, Moritz (Moe) Wagner, powered Michigan’s good first half start, clicking for 11 points and 5 rebounds, he only finished with 16 points and 7 rebounds in total. Foul trouble down the stretch and his role in a double technical hampered his night.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman ultimately paced Michigan with a quiet 23 points. Xavier Simpson added 10 points as the only other Wolverine to score in double figures.
Although it took the MVP play of a sensational freshman and other reserves to pull their feet out of the fire, Villanova undoubtedly proved to be the better team overall. Not only did they quench the dream of Michigan finally taking the Championship back to Ann Arbor, for the first time since 1989, it was the 6th time in a row Big 10 contenders have had to settle for silver.