Delaware bomber DiVincenzo boosts Villanova to another national title

PETE BANNAN-DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA Villanova students watch the National Championship game on the the campus Quad outside the Connelly Center. Officials worked to keep celebrations off Lancaster Avenue.

SAN ANTONIO >> Villanova is going to need a bigger trophy case in the Davis Center.

The Wildcats are bringing home their second NCAA championship trophy in three years after rolling over Michigan, 79-62, Monday night at the Alamodome.

This title, the third in program history, did not have the last-second drama of 2016 when Kris Jenkins buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat North Carolina, 77-74.

Donte DiVincenzo saw to that. On a night when the Wildcats shot poorly and played shaky defense to start the game, and national Player of the Year Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman and Phil Booth all wound up in foul trouble, DiVincenzo was there, just as he was in the first half against West Virginia in the third round of the tournament.

The 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore came off the bench and poured in a career-high 31 points to earn Most Outstanding Player of the national championship game and enable Villanova to become just the seventh program in the 80-year history of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament to achieve three national championships. DiVincenzo connected on 10 of 15 shots from the field and 5-for-7 from 3-point range. He also had five rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots.

“To be with these guys and win this is a dream come true,” DiVincenzo said.

He did not shoulder the offensive load alone. All-American Mikal Bridges added 19 points and four boards to pace the Wildcats to their 11th straight win and 10th in a row by double digits. Bridges made the all-tournament team, as did teammates Eric Paschall and Brunson, and Michigan’s Moe Wagner.

The defense did its job, too. The Wildcats held the Wolverines (33-8) to 43.8 percent shooting overall and just 13 percent from 3-point range. And Michigan shot 8-for-12 to start the game. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led Michigan with 23 points. Wagner added 16.

“Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth are our leaders,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said, “and when we were down, they kept us together.”

Villanova’s run to the national title was historic on the national and local level.

The Wildcats (36-4) are just the fourth team since UCLA’s dynasty ended in 1975 to win two national championships in the span of three years. Duke won back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992. Kentucky claimed the championship in 1996 and again in 1998 and Florida went back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.

In the process, Villanova set the program record for wins in a season and the NCAA marks for victories over a four-year period (136) and 3-point field goals made in a season (464), an NCAA tournament (76) and a Final Four game (18).

The Wildcats are also just the fourth school since the field expanded to 65 in 1985 to win all six of their games by double digits. Michigan State (2000), Duke (2001) and North Carolina (2009) are the others to accomplish that feat.

It also puts head coach Jay Wright among the game’s best coaches. Wright joins Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams as the only active men’s coaches with two or more national championships. And Wright has one more national title than Hall of Fame coaches Tom Izzo, John Calipari, Jim Boeheim and Bill Self. He also is one of just seven active coaches to guide a team to the Final Four three times.

Locally, Wright is the first City 6 coach to win two national titles. Ken Loeffler led La Salle to back-to-back championship games in 1954 and 1955, but the Explorers fell to San Francisco in the 1955 national championship game after winning the crown in 1954.

“I can’t really put my head around it,” Wright said. “I never dreamed of this. We just took it one game at a time and played our best in the national championship game.”

And Jalen Brunson is first Naismith Player of the Year to win the national title since Kentucky’s Anthony Davis in 2012, and just the seventh player to claim both the award and the national championship in the same season since the award was first handed out in 1969.

Brunson was held to nine points, but that didn’t matter. Nor did the individual honors.

“I can’t put this into words,” Brunson said. “This is what I wanted (pointing to the championship trophy) and this is what I got.”

It was evident early that the Wildcats weren’t playing Kansas. Villanova missed its first four 3-pointers and did not hit its first triple until the 12:41 mark of the first half. At the same time, the Wildcats could not keep the Wolverines from getting to the rim.

Michigan was 8-for-12 from the field in the first 9:01. Six of those buckets were layups, which allowed the Wolverines to build their biggest lead, 21-14. And then Villanova’s defense stiffened. The Wildcats held the Wolverines scoreless for the next 5:12 and held again after Charles Matthews dunked with 3:34 to play in the first half.

In the meantime, DiVincenzo caught fire off the bench. He was 3-for-4 from 3-point land in the first half. The rest of the Wildcats were 1-for-9. DiVincenzo scored 12 of his 18 first-half points in the last 10:21. He also fed Spellman for a dunk and had a huge block to stake the Wildcats to a 37-28 halftime lead.

If the Wolverines had any hopes of staging a comeback in the second half, Eric Paschall quickly put those dreams to rest. He scored five straight points to cap a 7-0 run and the rout was on. Not even foul trouble to Brunson, Spellman and Paschall could derail Villanova’s championship train.

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