Is it the barbeque? Villanova’s Wright adds a regional title to his run of NCAA success in Texas

Villanova's Jermaine Samuels celebrates with teammates after being named the most valuable player. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. - photo by Joe Alexander

Villanova’s Jermaine Samuels celebrates with teammates Saturday after being named the most valuable player in the South Regional. Villanova beat Houston, 50-44, and advanced to the Final Four. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Jay Wright, without a doubt, still calls Pennsylvania home.

He was born 60 years ago in Churchville, Pa., and he has worked for the past 21 years in Philadelphia as the head coach of the Villanova Wildcats.

Villanova coach Jay Wright. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. - photo by Joe Alexander

Villanova coach Jay Wright won NCAA titles in Houston in 2016 and in San Antonio in 2018. He added a regional crown on Saturday with a victory — in San Antonio, again — over the Houston Cougars. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Nonetheless, Wright’s affection for Texas continues to grow. After all, his Wildcats have stormed undefeated through six NCAA tournament games, two each on three trips into the state, over the past seven seasons.

Wright’s latest version of the Texas two-step came this week in San Antonio at the AT&T Center.

On Thursday night, Villanova downed the Michigan Wolverines in the Sweet 16. On Saturday afternoon, ‘Nova followed with a grind-it-out, 50-44 victory over the Houston Cougars, which clinched a South Regional championship and catapulted Wright past the Elite Eight and into next week’s Final Four in New Orleans.

In his other two visits to Texas, both of them to Final Four competitions, he won national championships in Houston in 2016 and in San Antonio in 2018. So, what is this all about, Coach Wright?

“I think barbecue,” he said in a deadpan reply. “I think we like barbecue. We love Texas. We really do. It’s always nice weather when we come down here. People are so friendly. I don’t know what to tell you.

“I don’t know what it is, man. We have played some great games down here against some really good teams, and we’ve come out on top.”

Forward Jermaine Samuels produced 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Caleb Daniels came off the bench for 12 points as the Wildcats out-battled the Cougars under extremely unusual circumstances.

The Wildcats survived and advanced in spite of adversity at every turn, namely a pro-Cougars crowd, 28.8 percent shooting from the field, 23.8 percent shooting from three and a glaring lack of offense from their two leading scorers.

Houston's Taze Moore gets the crowd going late in the game. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. - photo by Joe Alexander

Houston’s Taze Moore gets the crowd going late in the game. Moore led the Cougars with 15 points and 10 rebounds. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“I was proud of our guys,” Wright said. “Having experienced guys playing in that environment, like a true road game, them making a run, a really, really good team that you know can get on runs, and for (our players) to keep their composure and get a couple stops, hit big shots like Collin (Gillespie) did — having veteran players is the key to that, guys that have been in that moment before.”

Wright is thrilled to return to the Final Four, his fourth trip since taking over at Villanova in 2001.

“It feels great, man,” the coach said. “It feels great to be going back to the Final Four. It never gets old. It is a dream of every player and coach in college basketball. It’s the ultimate.

“We’re going to enjoy this. Tonight and tomorrow we’re going to enjoy this. We’re going to rest up, and then we’re going to get to work. We get to keep playing. That’s what we enjoy the most.”

South No. 2 seed Villanova (30-7) will play next Saturday in the national semifinals against either the Kansas Jayhaws or the Miami Hurricanes. In his heart, Wright knows that fifth-seeded Houston (32-6) could have been the team making the trip, and not his.

Villanova's Caleb Daniels puts up a shot. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. - photo by Joe Alexander

Villanova’s Caleb Daniels puts up a shot against Houston. Daniels finished with 12 points and six rebounds off the bench. – Photo by Joe Alexander

After all, the Cougars were brilliant defensively.

Not only did they hold Justin Moore to eight points and Gillespie to six, they also battled for rebounds with such tenacity that one Wildcats player compared it to “a street fight” under the backboard.

In the end, though, the Cougars could not overcome their own offensive foibles, which included 29.8 percent shooting from the field and 5 percent (1 of 20) from three.

More painfully, many of the Cougars’ shots, particularly late in the game, were good looks.

“Teams that cry care,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “There was a lot of tears in that locker room, coaches and players. This team’s been through a lot this year. I knew it was going to take a good team to beat us. And a good team did.”

Villanova made only two field goals in the last five minutes, both of them critical to the Wildcats’ success. The first was by Gillespie and the other by Samuels.

After the Cougars cut what had been an 11-point Wildcats lead to two, Gillespie stalled the momentum when he pulled up for a 15-footer with five minutes remaining.

Villanova's Jermaine Samuels shoots around Houston's Fabian White Jr. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. - photo by Joe Alexander

Villanova’s Jermaine Samuels shoots around Houston’s Fabian White, Jr. Samuels finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. He hit 6 of 10 from the field. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Later, with the clock at 1:25, Cougars point guard Jamal Shead sank a transition floater, and Sampson called time out to set up the full-court press. Villanova inbouded successfully, pushed it up court and found Samuels on a driving layup.

It settled into the net with 1:06 remaining for a 48-42 Villanova lead. On the other end, Sampson appeared to be motioning to one official that Samuels should have been called for carrying the ball on the dribble drive to the hoop.

Never mind the argument. As the Cougars pushed it back downcourt, they got the ball to Kyler Edwards, who was fouled and hit two free throws. Four-point game. Fifty nine seconds remaining. Houston still had a chance.

On the Wildcats’ next possession, they got it to Moore, who drove into the lane and then veered out of the paint to his right. Suddenly, he went down, injured, and had to come out of the game.

Houston had the ball on the turnover, going back the other way, and Cougars guard Taze Moore saw an opening to drive right to left across the lane. It was a shot he had made before. But this one hit backboard and then rimmed out.

Gillespie grabbed the ball and started up court, only to get fouled. He hit two free throws with 25.7 seconds left for the final points of the game.

“First of all, congratulations to Jay,” Sampson said. “Villanova, I think they represent college athletics at the highest level, the right way. They’ve got a really good team.

Villanova's Justin Moore drives around Houston's J'Wan Roberts. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. - photo by Joe Alexander

Villanova’s Justin Moore drives around Houston’s J’Wan Roberts. Moore, the team’s second-leading scorer and a key defensive component, suffered an injury after a fall late in the game. His status for the Final Four is uncertain. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“But if you’d have told me before the game that we’re going to hold them to 28 percent from the field, (that) they’re going to shoot 23 percent from the three-point line, and we’d lose, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Sampson lauded his team’s effort.

“Our kids guarded,” he said. “Man, did we guard. Our defense was spot on. It’s not easy to hold a team with that kind of — Gillespie, Moore, Samuels — everybody in their lineup can make a basket. Shoot, we held them to 50 points.

“We had a lot of opportunities. They didn’t go in. That happens.”

Taze Moore, a transfer into Houston from Cal State Bakersield, finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Cougars. He was 6 of 21 from the field. Sampson said he didn’t think any were bad shots.

“We got down early, then we fought back,” Sampson said. “I think we had it to four, and we had a breakaway, and Taze missed one right there in the paint. Most of the shots he missed tonight were the same as he made against Illinois (in the round of 32).

“But that’s the way it goes.”

Villanova's Collin Gillespie shoots over Houston's J'Wan Roberts. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. - photo by Joe Alexander

Villanova’s Collin Gillespie shoots over Houston’s J’Wan Roberts. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. – photo by Joe Alexander

First half

It was a game of low-down, slow down in the first half, as the Wildcats emerged with a 27-20 lead on the Cougars at intermission.

Neither team tried to push the pace and both shot extremely poor percentages from the field — Houston (30.8) and Villanova (28).

The Wildcats were the aggressors early, jumping out to a 21-10 lead. Guard Justin Moore capped the run with a three from the top of the circle.


Houston was looking to advance to the Final Four for the second year in a row. But it was not to be. Part of it had to do with a lack of backcourt scoring. Shead scored 21 points and Edwards had 19 in a victory Thursday night over the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats. Neither were as effective against the Villanova Wildcats. Shead finished with nine points on 4 of 13 shooting. Edwards scored four on 1 of 12.


Villanova 30-7
Houston 32-6

Coming up

NCAA Final Four, at the Caesars Superdome, New Orleans, April 2-4.

Villanova celebrates with the South Region trophy. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. - photo by Joe Alexander

Second-seeded Villanova celebrates with the South Region trophy after downing fifth-seeded Houston, 50-44. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Culture of defensive excellence defines the Houston Cougars

Houston's Fabian White Jr. plays defense on Arizona's Bennedict Mathurin. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Houston’s Fabian White Jr. defends against Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin in the Sweet 16. White and the Cougars smothered the Wildcats 72-60. With the victory, Houston advanced to face Villanova today in the Elite Eight. – Photo by Joe Alexander

When the Houston Cougars emerge from the dressing room today, their reputation as a basketball team built on defense will precede even the first steps they will take in the layup line.

It’s a reputation known by everyone preparing to watch the NCAA Elite Eight matchup on television. By everyone on the streets scrambling to get a ticket for the game at the AT&T Center.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson hopes to lead his team to a victory today and a second straight trip to the Final Four. – Photo by Joe Alexander

And, perhaps most importantly, by their opponent — the Villanova Wildcats.

Heck, any fan who has ever followed teams coached by Kelvin Sampson over the past 25 years knows what the Cougars are planning to do today once the ball is tossed in the air for the opening tip.

From a team concept, each player in a Houston uniform will know the plan tailored specifically to stopping Collin Gillespie and the Wildcats.

Each will know the nuances in the offensive repertoire of Gillespie and everyone else in the Villanova rotation.

Moreover, each Houston player will expend effort on the defensive end as if it’s the last thing they do.

That is essentially what happened Thursday night when the Cougars dismantled the Arizona Wildcats in the Sweet 16.

Arizona, one of the slickest and most skilled offensive teams in the nation, at first was rattled.

Then it was completely shut down. In a 72-60 loss that ended their season, the Wildcats were held some 24 points below their season scoring average.

Houston's Ramon Walker Jr. (left) and Taze Moore celebrate late in Thursday's game. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Houston’s Ramon Walker Jr. (left) and Taze Moore celebrate late in Thursday’s victory over top-seeded Arizona. – photo by Joe Alexander

As a USA Today columnist noted, “Houston’s physicality on every single play made things so difficult that Arizona quite literally didn’t know what to do.”

Since physicality is such an interesting word, sometimes conjuring images of an overly aggressive style of play, Houston forward Fabian White Jr. was asked Friday about the specifics of the description.

White had no problem with it.

“That’s just how we play,” White said. “We play physical. In practice, we barely call fouls. We dive on the floor, barely lose the ball in practice.

“That’s just our culture. We want to play physical and not make the game easy for the opponent. Yeah, I agree with that statement.

“We want to play physical as much as possible.”

As both teams’ players and coaches met with the media on Friday afternoon, Villanova coach Jay Wright summed up the challenge that his Wildcats will face, with a berth in the Final Four hanging in the balance.

“We know what an outstanding team we’re playing, (one) that’s got just great experience,” Wright said. “They were in the Final Four last year.

“You can tell by the way they play in these games, they are a very comfortable in this tournament setting. They’re very disciplined.”

In some ways, the Cougars’ commitment to defense overshadows some of the other elements of their success.

Villanova coach Jay Wright. No. 2 seed Villanova beat No. 11 seed Michigan 63-55 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Two-time NCAA championship coach Jay Wright hopes to win today and advance his Villanova Wildcats to a third Final Four in six years. Wright-coached Villanova claimed NCAA titles in 2016 and 2018. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“I feel like they are underrated as an offensive team,” Wright said. “Everybody knows what a great defensive team they are, but I think they really find matchups to their advantage and execute intelligently, offensively, and part of their scheme is setting themselves up for offensive rebounds …

“We know we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. We worked out this morning, and we still have work to do to get ready for the game tomorrow.”

Villanova, the No. 2 seed in the NCAA South region, has played a pretty salty brand of hoops in its own right over the past few weeks.

Employing a walk-it-up pace most of the time, the Wildcats have registered victories over Delaware, Ohio State and Michigan, holding opponents to an average of 59 points per game.

Even with Villanova’s play of late, not to mention its history as a two-time NCAA champion under Wright, it’s intriguing to see that oddsmakers are favoring Houston to win today.

The reason? Likely, it stems from the Cougars’ relentless effort on the defensive end of the floor.

“It’s just really impressive,” Wright said. “Every coach tries to get their team to play that way. You wouldn’t talk to one coach who would say, ‘You know, I don’t care if my guys play hard defensively. I don’t care if they play every possession like it’s the last possession of their life.’

“We all try to get our guys to do that. Kelvin gets his guys to do it .. They literally play every defensive possession like it’s the last possession of the game.”

No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

The Houston Cougars’ hope their fans turn out in force today in San Antonio. Cougars’ fans made a difference in Thursday’s victory over Arizona.. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Villanova steps up the defense to knock off Michigan, 63-55

Villanova's Jermaine Samuels. No. 2 seed Villanova beat No. 11 seed Michigan 63-55 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Senior Jermaine Samuels produced 22 points on 8 of 13 shooting to help the No. 2-seeded Villanova Wildcats beat the 11th-seeded Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA Sweet 16. – photo by Joe Alexander

Forward Jermaine Samuels scored 22 points and the Villanova Wildcats, playing aggressive second-half defense, downed the Michigan Wolverines 63-55 Thursday night in an NCAA tournament Sweet 16 game at the AT&T Center.

Justin Moore had 15 points and Collin Gillespie 12 for the Wildcats, who took 30 three-point shots and made nine of them.

Michigan's Hunter Dickinson and Villanova's Eric Dixon. No. 2 seed Villanova beat No. 11 seed Michigan 63-55 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Hunter Dickinson of the Michigan Wolverines (left) battles against Villanova’s Eric Dixon. Dickinson had 15 points and 15 rebounds but was limited to 6 of 16 shooting by Jermaine Samuels, Dixon and others. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Hunter Dickinson led the Wolverines with 15 points and 15 rebounds. Eli Brooks scored 12. Michigan trailed by only three at the half but couldn’t get the offense going in the last 20 minutes.

Villanova held Michigan to 26.5 percent shooting in the second half.

With the victory, the Wildcats, seeded second in the NCAA South region, will move into the Elite Eight round. They will play Saturday against the Houston Cougars. Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 later Thursday night.

For the 11th-seeded Wolverines, the season is over. Michigan had high hopes last fall but couldn’t sustain the success once the season went into late February. The Wolverines (19-15) were 6-6 in their last dozen games, counting the postseason.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats (29-7) are rolling. Coach Jay Wright’s team has won eight in a row. In its last 14 games, Villanova is 13-1. Samuels was the man in the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader, helping to hold the 7-foot-1, 260-pound Dickinson to 6 of 16 shooting.

“I wanted to stay mobile,” Samuelson said. “I understand my teammates are right behind me. They’re going to make plays for me. That gave me all the confidence in the world. He’s a phenomenal player. He’s going to get great looks at the basket.

“Knowing I had my teammates behind me, that gave me all the confidence I needed.”

Villanova’s Caleb Daniels supplied some energy and toughness in the second half, when he went off for eight points and four rebounds.

Asked what got him going, Daniels said he knows his teammates will find him on the perimeter if he is open. He also claimed that he wanted to be on the attack, to make things happen.

“That pretty much started defensively,” Daniels said.


Michigan 19-15
Villanova 29-7

First half

Villanova's Collin Gillespie. No. 2 seed Villanova beat No. 11 seed Michigan 63-55 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Senior Collin Gillespie led Villanova with four 3-pointers. He was 4 of 14 from the field and scored 12 points. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The first 20 minutes were not pretty. The Michigan Wolverines shot 44.4 percent.
The Villanova Wildcats? They were good on 37.9 percent.

Michigan blocked four shots. Villanova made four steals. It was just one of those halves.

Villanova had an edge, though. Faced with a zone defense, the Wildcats fired up 16 three-point attempts and made five of them, taking a 31-28 lead over Michigan.

Wildcats point guard Collin Gillespie knocked down three of them and his backcourt mate, Justin Moore, sank two.

Samuels finished the half with 11 for Villanova, followed by Moore with 10 and Gillespie nine.

For Michigan, Hunter Dickinson produced eight points, four rebounds and a couple of blocks.

He led the Wolverines offensively with four of seven shooting. DeVante’ Jones led a late surge for Michigan. He had seven at the half.

Michigan jumped out to an early lead but Villanova for the most part controlled the action. The Wildcats’ biggest lead was seven at 18-11 with 10 minutes left.

Villanova's Justin Moore. No. 2 seed Villanova beat No. 11 seed Michigan 63-55 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Villanova guard Justin Moore had 15 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds against the Michigan Wolverines. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Sweet 16 is set to tip off in San Antonio; Michigan-‘Nova up first

Good afternoon, all. I just sat down at press row at the AT&T Center. Time to rap out a few notes on the Sweet 16.

First, the Michigan-Villanova game.

Michigan (19-14) hopes to win and advance to the Elite Eight for the 15th time (16 if you include the 1993 game, which was vacated because of NCAA infractions).

The Wolverines have advanced to the Elite Eight round recently in 2018, when the John Beilein-coached team swept into the Final Four and lost the NCAA title game to Villanova, and last year under coach Juwan Howard. Last year, the UCLA Bruins beat the Wolverines by two in the R8 to deny Howard his first trip to the Final Four as a head coach.

If Michigan wins, it would be the second year in a row that an 11 seed has reached the Elite Eight but only the ninth time since 1985. Since ’85, only five 11 seeds have made it all the way to the Final Four.

The Wolverines started the season with high hopes but fell into a funk during Big Ten competition, going 4-4 leading into the postseason. After losing to Indiana in the first game of the conference tournament, Michigan entered NCAAs as a No. 11 seed and defeated six seed Colorado State (75-63) and three seed Tennessee (76-68).

Villanova (28-7) is shooting for its 16th trip to the Eight, 17 if you count the vacated 1971 tournament. The Wildcats have reached the R8 four times previously under Coach Jay Wright, advancing in 2006, 2009, 2016 and 2018. The Wildcats won NCAA championships in both 2016 and 2018. The ’18 title was claimed at the Alamodome with a victory over Michigan.

The Wildcats enter the Sweet 16 on a high. They’ve won seven straight. They’re also 12-1 in their last 13 games. Seeded second in the South, Villanova downed (15) Delaware 80-60 and (7) Ohio State 71-61.

In the second game of the night, it’s Houston vs. Arizona.

Houston (31-5) is hunting its 14th trip to the Elite Eight. The Cougars made the R8 last season on the way to its first Final Four trip in 37 years. The Quentin Grimes-led Cougars lost in the national semifinals to the Baylor Bears, who went on to claim the NCAA championship. It was Houston’s first Final Four since the 1983-’84 days of Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Phi Slama Jama.

Despite losing two star players around the first of the calendar year, the Cougars are hot coming into the Sweet 16. They have won five straight. In their last 12 games, they are 11-1. Houston won the AAC tournament in Fort Worth with victories over Cincinnati, Tulane and Memphis. Moving into the NCAA tournament, the Cougars drew a No. 5 seed and set out for Pittsburgh, where they downed the UAB Blazers, 68-53, and then knocked off four seed Illinois, 68-53.

Arizona (33-3) hopes to win and claim a 12th berth in the Elite Eight. The Wildcats last made it to the R8 in 2011, 2014 and 2015. Arizona is one of the hottest teams in the nation at the moment. The Wildcats have won seven straight. In their last 18 games, they are 17-1. Arizona defeated Wright State, 87-70, in the first round of the tournament at San Diego. The Wildcats outlasted the TCU Horned Frogs, 85-80, in overtime in the round of 32.

Sweet 16 will showcase a handful of elite offensive talents

Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin, shown here dunking against TCU Sunday night, is the player to watch in the Sweet 16 at the AT&T Center.

The NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 in the South region features a few individual offensive stylists on each of the four teams that could inspire even the most over-the-hill, couch potatoes to sign up for gym memberships in April.

Then again, some of your friends in the forever out-of-shape category may just want to tune into the games to watch the theatrics unfold, just for the heck of it.

Some, no doubt, will be inspired only to reach for another bag of chips, or for one more adult beverage — which is fine.

Regardless, we’ll explore this afternoon what both of Thursday night’s games will have to offer in terms of ball players who have the ability to score in streaks at the AT&T Center.

In the first game that tips off at 6:29 p.m., the 11th-seeded Michigan Wolverines will call on center Hunter Dickinson and guard Eli Brooks to do damage against the two-seed Villanova Wildcats.

They Wolverines will be tasked with slowing down some pretty good shot-makers on the Wildcats, as well, namely All-American guard Collin Gillespie and his backcourt mate, Justin Moore.

In the 8:59 p.m. nightcap, the high-flying, top-seeded Arizona Wildcats will showcase perhaps the most highly-rated player in the Sweet 16 in 6-foot-6 guard Bennedict Mathurin, plus a few other standouts, namely, forward Azuolas Tubelis and 7-1 center Christian Koloko.

The fifth-seeded Cougars, possibly the best defensive team in San Antonio this weekend, probably will prefer to play at a somewhat deliberate pace to keep the Wildcats from taking too many shots.

Also, the Cougars’ two best offensive threats — Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark — are injured and out for the season.

Regardless, Houston will start guards in Kyler Edwards, Jamal Shead and Taze Moore who can shoot and play in transition in stretches if it’s necessary. They’ve also got center Josh Carlton and reliable veteran forward Fabian White, a career 49 percent shooter.

Michigan vs. Villanova

In the opener, Dickinson, a 7-foot-1, 260-pound sophomore from Virginia, has emerged as a player who has carried the erratic Wolverines to back-to-back victories for the first time in a few months.

A left-hander with a deft touch from all three levels, he produced 48 points on 16 of 23 shooting combined against Colorado State and third-seeded Tennessee.

In one of his best outings of the season, Dickinson had 27 points and 11 rebounds in a 76-68 upset of the Volunteers.

Michigan coach Juwan Howard, one of the best big men in the nation when he played for the Wolverines, talked about the potential for a good show between Dickinson and Villanova’s Eric Dixon.

Though Dixon is only 6-7, Howard lauded his skillset.

“I know they talked about the guard play from Gillespie and Moore and others,” Howard said. “But Dixon, when you’re a 6-7 center … sometimes you look at that as slight. But he’s not just a center. He’s a basketball player … a competitive basketball player built with a lot of strength, toughness …

“(He) can shoot the basketball extremely well … (He) plays with a high IQ.”

Villanova coach Jay Wright said that he recruited Brooks out of high school at Spring Grove, Pa. In that regard, the coach knows what Michigan’s 6-1, fifth-year senior will bring to the table.

“I did see him getting this good, and this is what we thought he would be,” Wright said. “That’s why we recruited him. As I remember it — I’m not always good at this, but he visited our place, and then he told us he was going to take a visit to Michigan and then made his decision.

“Then he called me and told me he was going to Michigan. That’s what I remember.

“Great, great kid. Great family. This is kind of what we thought he’d be. We thought he’d be a four-year guy and a great player and winner, (a)champion by the time he was done … it’s a shame we got to go against him because you root for a guy like that.”

Houston vs. Arizona

Mathurin emerged as a hot topic of discussion in media interviews — and some of it was for reasons that didn’t have anything to do with basketball.

The Associated Press published a story saying that Mathurin, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, communicated by email to the TCU athletic department in an attempt to apologize following reports on social media that indicated he might have made contact with a TCU dance team member after a round of 32 game in San Diego last weekend.

Mathurin, who scored 30 points to lead the Wildcats past the Horned Frogs, reportedly was bowing to the crowd after the 85-80 overtime victory Sunday night.

As he turned toward the tunnel, the AP story said, “he appears to be looking the opposite way with his arms still outstretched when his left hand goes near the woman’s chest, though it is unclear whether there is any contact.”

Asked to respond Wednesday, Mathurin told reporters, “Yeah, I actually sent an e-mail trying to reach out to the cheerleader and sent (it) through the TCU athletic department. I reached out to her, and that is it.”

He declined to answer a follow-up question about whether he recalled touching the dancer when leaving the floor.

“I answered your question,” Mathurin said.

Playing against the Horned Frogs, the sophomore shooting guard sank a 3-pointer to tie the game in regulation and then scored six more points in overtime as Arizona survived against ninth-seeded TCU.

“He’s the best guard we’ve seen,” said Sampson, a former San Antonio Spurs assistant coach under Gregg Popovich. “That’s not coach speak, that’s the truth. I was in the NBA for six seasons, and he’s an NBA guy.

“He’s not going to go in and be a role player. He’ll start. He’s going to get drafted so high that they’re going to start him.”

In the Cougars, the Wildcats will need to guard an array of talent that, as a group, averages 75.2 points. The Cougars shoot 47.1 percent from the field as a team, including 34.4 percent from three.

“I’m so impressed just with how (their) players do what they’re told to do,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “Just the effort they play with. They max out every effort area. They’re well drilled on offense. They know the shots they want to take.

“They know who’s taking them, where they’re coming from, and they obviously do an amazing job offensive bounding. And then, defensively, the effort and energy they play with and attention to detail, it’s almost unmatched.”

With players buying into Sampson’s system, Houston ranks fourth in the nation in scoring defense (59 points per game), first in field goal percentage defense (37.5) and 11th in 3-point defense (28.8).

Nonetheless, the Cougars can also fill it up on offense, and the explosions can come from seemingly any position.

For instance, they have had three different players lead the team in scoring over the last five games.

In a span of three games at the American Athletic Conference tournament and two in the NCAA tournament, White and Edwards have led the Cougars in scoring twice, while Moore, who is usually a distributor, exploded for a season-high 21 in a 68-53 thumping of fourth-seeded Illinois on Sunday afternoon.

“Three-hour drive from home, we’re expecting a big turnout,” Carlton said. “But we also know Arizona … has a big fan base. We know their fans travel well, but we’re really expecting for our fans to show up.

“That’s the big benefit of having this game so close to home, being able to have the fans be there and support.


Game One: Michigan (19-14) vs. Villanova (28-7).

Game Two: Arizona (33-3) vs. Houston (31-5)

Villanova wins, advances to the Sweet 16 in San Antonio

Collin Gillespie scored 20 points, and Eric Dixon drained a clutch 3-pointer in the final two minutes on Sunday to help the Villanova Wildcats turn back the Ohio State Buckeyes, 71-61, in an NCAA tournament game at Pittsburgh.

With the victory, the second-seeded Wildcats (28-7) will move into the South region Sweet 16 at San Antonio’s AT&T Center on Thursday.

They’ll play the No. 11 seed Michigan Wolverines (19-14) in a game that will feature an almost entirely different cast of players and coaches from the same programs that met in the 2018 NCAA title game at the Alamodome.

In April of 2018, Villanova won its second national title with a 79-62 victory over Michigan.

From that game, Villanova coach Jay Wright will return to the Alamo City, as will fifth-year seniors Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. As a freshman, Gillespie scored four points off the bench in the championship clincher.

Asked after the Ohio State game about playing Michigan again in San Antonio, Gillespie shrugged off the coincidence.

“I didn’t think about that,” Gillespie said. “We’re just happy to be moving on. We’re taking it one day at a time. We’re just having a growth mindset.

“We want to go back this week, watch the film. We can get a lot better from it. There’s a lot of things we can do to get better this week and prepare for Michigan.”

Apparently, all of Michigan’s players who played in the 2018 championship meeting have moved on. In addition, the Wolverines are under the direction of a new staff led by head coach Juwan Howard.

“We know how great of a team they are and the difficulties they present,” Gillespie said. “Our coach is going to put together a great scouting report. But I didn’t think about that (playing Michigan again, in San Antonio).”

Added Samuels, “I didn’t think about it until you brought it up, but that team is very battle tested, they’ve been through a lot all year, and they’re going to be ready to go. It’s cool it’s in San Antonio but great to be in the Sweet 16.”

The Buckeyes entered the Round of 32 game coming off a dominant defensive performance in a 54-41 victory over Loyola-Chicago. Villanova nearly matched Loyola’s production in the first half as it surged to a 39-28 lead.

Methodically, the Wildcats built the lead in the second half to as much as 15 points. But the Buckeyes rallied, and a 3-pointer by Jamari Wheeler made it a two-point game with 5:39 to play. At that point, the Wildcats held firm.

With the clock winding down, Gillespie backed a defender down and pitched outside to Dixon, who hit a 3-pointer with 1:38 remaining to increase Villanova’s lead to eight. Ohio State never got closer than six the rest of the way.

“That’s something we work on all the time,” Gillespie said of the key play. “They were playing Justin (Moore) pretty tight on that side, and their big was in the lane. Eric was wide open, and I have tons of confidence in him to step in and knock any shot down that he’s going to take.”

Dixon, a 6-8, 255-pound forward, has attempted only 31 three-pointers this season. He has made 16 of them.

Top-ranked Kansas holds off Villanova, 74-71

Guard Lagerald Vick scored 29 points and forward Dedric Lawson had 28 and 12 rebounds on Saturday, as the top-ranked Kansas Jayhawks held off defending NCAA champion Villanova, 74-71.

An announced crowd of 16,300 at Allen Fieldhouse watched as freshman guard Devon Dotson scored six points in the final 2:25 for the Jayhawks.

For 17th-ranked Villanova, Phil Booth scored 29 and Eric Paschall produced 17.

The game was a rematch of sorts of the 2018 NCAA semifinals, in which the Wildcats routed the Jayhakws 95-79 at the Alamodome on the way to their second national title in three years.


Kansas 9-0
Villanova 8-4


Kansas has notched victories this season against four teams in this week’s AP Top 25, including No. 3 Tennessee, (9) Michigan State, (17) Villanova and (21) Marquette.

Dedric Lawson, a transfer from Memphis, is on fire. He has posted six straight games of 20 or more points. Also, he has produced six games this season of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Villanova roars to second NCAA title in three years

Guard Donte DiVincenzo poured in a career-high 31 points off the bench in front of a roaring crowd at the Alamodome Monday night, lifting the Villanova Wildcats to a 79-62 victory over Michigan for the NCAA men’s basketball championship.

Villanova guard Donte DiVincenzo set a record for most points in an NCAA title game by a non-starter. He scored 31.

It was Villanova’s second title in three years.

DiVincenzo, a 6-5 sophomore from Wilmington, Delaware, scored 18 in the first half when Villanova rallied from a seven-point deficit to take a nine-point halftime lead.

He continued to put on a show in the second half, finishing with a 10-of-15 shooting performance. DiVincenzo knocked down 5 of 7 shots from three-point range.

Guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the Wolverines with 23.


Villanova: 36-4

Michigan: 33-8




Asked what turned the game around after Michigan seized an early seven-point lead, Villanova coach Jay Wright momentarily dodged the question, saying, “We want to congratulate the Michigan Wolverines (and coach) John Beilein, a great program (with) great fans, and we’re proud to have played them in this game.

“To answer your question, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are our leaders. When we got down, those three kept us together.”

Villanova coach Jay Wright tells reporters it is difficult to comprehend that his teams have won two championships in the past three seasons.

Catching fire again

Just as Michigan started to make a push midway through the second half, DiVincenzo caught fire once again.

The Wolverines pulled within 13 points, but DiVincenzo answered with a free throw and two threes over the next two minutes to push the Wildcats back out front, 62-46, with eight minutes remaining.

The outburst boosted DiVincenzo’s point total to 27 points.

A dust-up after halftime

An offensive foul called on Michigan center Moritz Wagner with 15:24 remaining sparked emotions among players on both squads, resulting in technical fouls on Wagner and Villanova center Omari Spellman.

After the whistle, Wagner and Spellman faced off, as fans jeered the play.

After a review, officials elected to call double technicals.

The play underscored Villanova’s ploy to blanket Wagner with a physical defense, in an apparent attempt to take Michigans’s leading scorer out of his rhythm.

Holding court with reporters after the game, Jay Wright said he always told Donte DiVincenzo that he had to play defense to play for the Villanova Wildcats.

First-half summary

Trailing by seven, the Wildcats rallied behind DiVincenzo to take a 37-28 lead at intermission.

DiVincenzo scored 12 points in Villanova’s 23-7 run in the final 11 minutes.

Early in the game, Wagner, a 6-11, multi-skilled center, led the Wolverines to a 21-14 advantage.

Showing off a variety of skills, either down low or outside on the perimeter, Wagner scored 11 points in nine minutes.

But after Wagner’s bucket in the paint made it a seven-point game and brought Michigan fans out of their seats, DiVincenzo went to work for Villanova.

Included in his outburst was a long three from the left wing to boost the Wildcats into a 23-21 lead.

He added another three and a dunk to finish the half with 18 points on 7 of 10 shooting.

Michigan forward Moritz ‘Moe’ Wagner said referees didn’t explain a double technical foul called on him and Villanova forward Omari Spellman. ‘But I wasn’t worrying about it. I just moved on to the next play. Stuff happens.’

On April 2, before a crowd of 67,831 at the Alamodome, Villanova celebrated a 79-62 victory over Michigan for the NCAA title.

It’s down to two: Villanova, Michigan to duel for a title

The Villanova Wildcats and Michigan Wolverines on Sunday kicked into high gear their preparation for Monday’s NCAA basketball championship game at the Alamodome.

Coaches and players were also meeting with the media.

Villanova coach Jay Wright (pictured, above) talks to reporters Sunday on the eve of the national title game against Michigan.

Wright won his first NCAA championship in Houston two years ago when Villanova topped North Carolina, 77-74.

He’ll get a shot to seize the second crown of his career on Monday night at the Alamodome in downtown San Antonio.

“We are thrilled to be here, obviously,” Wright said. “Every time you come up here, you just kind of pinch yourself, like, we’re still here. This is really cool.”

Villanova forward Eric Paschall emerged as one of the stories of the Final Four Saturday when he hit 10 of 11 shots and scored a team-high 24 in a 95-79 victory over Kansas.

With his performance, Paschall put himself in position to play in his first title game for the Wildcats.

He sat out under transfer rules in 2015-16 when Villanova beat Oklahoma and then North Carolina in Houston.

Michigan coach John Beilein addresses the media at the NCAA Final Four.

Michigan coach John Beilein said Villanova put on an “offensive clinic” against Kansas.

“It was an offensive clinic against a very good defensive team,” Beilein said. “We’re just pleased to be in this forum right now, where we’re playing the last day.”

Michigan advanced to the title game with a 69-57 victory over Loyola-Chicago.

Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman on Sunday afternoon discussed the impact that coach John Beilein has had on his career.

Abdur-Rahkman came to Michigan as a two-star recruit and worked his way into a starter’s role.

He told reporters that he always appreciated that Beilein treated players who weren’t playing the same way he treated athletes in the rotation.

Abdur-Rahkman will be a key figure in the championship game with his ability to guard the three-point line.

It’s confession time.

On Saturday afternoon, I got myself into a bit of a rush on my way to the Final Four.

Preparing to leave my house, I left my phone charger in the living room.

Once I arrived in the dome press room, I unpacked my gear and discovered the mental error.

Fortunately, my wife was home and, as usual, was more than willing to help me out.

She drove downtown and delivered the phone charger, handing off to me in front of the Express-News building.

I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of having to walk from the dome to the newspaper, and back, but I’m glad I did.

It was a chance to see and hear the sights and sounds of visitors on their way to the game.

In a sense, a mental error allowed me to feel the pulse of the tournament.

It was special.

Villanova hits a record 18 threes to sink Kansas

The record-setting Villanova Wildcats buried six three-pointers in the first seven minutes Saturday night at the Alamodome en route to an easy 95-79 victory over Kansas in the NCAA Final Four semifinals.

With the win, the Wildcats set the stage for a Monday night showdown against the Michigan Wolverines for the national title.

Michigan advanced earlier in the evening by rallying in the second half to down Loyola-Chicago, 69-57.

In the blowout over Kansas, Villanova set a Final Four record for three-pointers in a game with 18.

Villanova also established an NCAA single season record for threes in a season with 454.

Remarkably, the Big 12-champion Jayhawks led only once in the game at 2-0 before the Wildcats started to rain threes on them.

Eric Paschall, Mikal Bridges and Omari Spellman hit three straight from long distance to make it 9-2.

Spellman, Donte DiVincenzo and Collin Gillespie added three more to cap a 22-2 run.

Suddenly, the Jayahwks were down by 18 and struggling.

The struggle lasted for the duration of the half as the Wildcats maintained a double-digit lead though intermission.

Trailing by 47-32 entering the second half, the Jayhawks hit a couple of free throws to cut the lead to 13.

Not to be outdone, Paschall nailed another three to start a 7-0 run for the Wildcats, boosting the lead to 20.

Kansas never got closer than 14 the rest of the way.


Attendance in the dome was announced at 68,257.

Villanova continued to bury tournament opponents with its prolific shooting from beyond the arc, hitting 18 of 40 threes against Kansas, increasing its totals to 66 of 156 in five NCAA games.

Paschall, who sat out Villanova’s 2016 NCAA championship run while sitting out under transfer rules, led the Wildcats with 24 points on 10 of 11 shooting from the field and 4 of 5 from three.

Guard Jalen Brunson produced 18 points, including 13 in the first half, to go with a team-best six assists.

The recently-named Player of the Year in college basketball by the Associated Press and the U.S. Basketball Writers also nailed 3 of 8 from deep.

Spellman, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound redshirt freshman, contributed a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds.

Stepping outside, he showed off great touch, hitting 3 of 9.

DeVincenzo was 3 of 5 from deep to go along with his usual energetic play off the bench. He had 15 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists.


“Well, that was just one of those nights, man,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Man, we made every shot to start the game. And when you do that, you get up 22-4, if you’re a decent free-throw shooting team, it’s tough to come back on that.”


Kansas guard DeVonte’ Graham finished with 23 points and three assist in 39 minutes, and came off the floor with tears in his eyes, having played his last game for the Jayhawks.

Malik Newman, who had 32 points in an Elite Eight victory over Duke, scored 21. But he had only 7 points on 3 of 8 shooting when Kansas was getting blown out before intermission.


Graham said coach Bill Self told the players to keep their heads up.

“We had an unbelievable season,” Graham said. “You know, it’s not the way you want it to end. But even if you lost by one point it will still hurt. And we all just need to keep our heads up. It’s going to hurt now but we’ll be all right.”

Self disagreed gently with a question that suggested the season had a “sour ending” with the blowout loss.

“I don’t know if I totally agree with that,” he said. “To me it would be a sour ending if you lost on the last possession. Do you feel better, you know, losing the way we did today or losing on the last possession?

“You always want to perform in a way to put yourself in position to win. But when it’s the last game, certainly it stings and hurts no matter what. I’m really proud of our guys.

“We did not have the perfect roster in many ways to probably win 31 games and win the league in a great league and conference tournament ad get to the Final Four, in a lot of ways.

“And, today, it felt like today it just kind of caught up with us.”