NEW ORLEANS — When Kansas Coach Invoice Self sat down in current days to take a look at movie of his final journey to the Last 4, he couldn’t abdomen watching greater than 12 minutes. It’s simple to think about his intestine churning, his palms getting clammy and his head beginning to spin.
“I get tics every time I give it some thought,” Self mentioned of the 2018 semifinal wherein the highlights might have properly ended after Kansas scored the opening basket. The sport devolved right into a convincing defeat to Villanova, which might go on to win the nationwide championship.
Self and a handful of gamers quietly took that whipping — their second consecutive loss within the Last 4 to Villanova — and made positive it didn’t occur towards on Saturday, surging to an early lead and heading off the Wildcats down the stretch for an 81-65 victory.
Kansas will play the winner of Saturday evening’s different semifinal between North Carolina and Duke on Monday evening, permitting them to conquer one other reminiscence — dropping its most up-to-date championship recreation, in the identical Superdome a decade in the past.
The Jayhawks moved on because of a near-flawless efficiency from Ochai Agbaji, their fifth-year senior guard, who scored 21 factors and made all six 3-pointers he tried — together with the primary shot of the sport — and 23 factors by middle David McCormack. Mixed, the 2 Kansas anchors made 15 of 18 photographs.
And so they wanted to be that good.
Villanova, taking part in with out Justin Moore, who ruptured his Achilles’ tendon final week, tried to shoot its approach again from an early 19-point deficit however its guard triumvirate — Collin Gillespie, Brandon Slater and New Orleans native Caleb Daniels — didn’t fairly have sufficient.
The Wildcats drew inside 64-58 on Jermaine Samuels’ 3-point play, however might get no nearer. When Christian Braun hit a 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring, it gave Kansas a 71-59 lead and all however spelled the tip.
It was arduous to think about a worse begin for Villanova.
Kansas scored the primary 10 factors, Villanova turned the ball over on 4 consecutive possessions and Agbaji was on hearth, making his first 4 photographs, all 3-pointers. When Agbaji sliced by the Villanova protection and dished to McCormack for a rim-rattling dunk, Kansas had thrust its result in 26-11 somewhat greater than 10 minutes into the sport, prompting a timeout by Villanova.
That Agbaji would play such a central function was arduous to see coming when he arrived in Lawrence 5 years in the past. He was one of many higher gamers in Kansas Metropolis and a very good pupil, however he didn’t even begin for his Beginner Athletic Union crew, MoKan Elite, and so he got here to Lawrence as someone whom the coaches hoped could be a very good teammate and develop into a job participant.
As an alternative, he has morphed into one thing far more — an athletic wing with a lethal bounce shot who was the participant of the 12 months within the Massive 12, essentially the most aggressive convention within the nation over the previous few seasons, and a first-team All-America.
Agbaji on Saturday evening was the fulcrum of a Kansas offense that whirled and lower, the sound of sneakers persistently squeaking on the Superdome flooring because the ball zipped across the perimeter, relegating one of many nation’s most decided defenses to ball chasing.
Complementing Agbaji on the perimeter was McCormack, the lumbering senior middle who has generally discovered himself on the unsuitable finish of defensive mismatches, however on this evening was a drive inside towards Villanova middle Eric Dixon and the Wildcats skinny frontcourt.
When McCormack threw down a dunk over Samuels halfway by the second half, he let loose a roar and celebrated so fiercely — tapping himself on the pinnacle — that an official warned him on the best way down the courtroom to chill it.
This was solely the newest trial of Villanova’s toughness and togetherness this season.
Within the waning seconds of the South regional ultimate victory over Houston, Moore, a junior guard, ruptured his Achilles’ tendon. In a flash, the Wildcats had misplaced their finest defender, a significant ballhandler, fearless shotmaker and fierce chief. Because the Wildcats celebrated their victory, they did so solely after gathering round Moore who had a towel draped over his head on the crew’s bench.
Villanova’s tight rotation had already been narrowed by the lack of reserve Jordan Longino, who tore cartilage in his knee throughout follow earlier than the beginning of the N.C.A.A. event.
If there was some consolation for the Wildcats, it’s their familiarity with managing a short-handed roster.
A 12 months in the past, they misplaced Gillespie to a knee damage on the finish of the common season. They regrouped to play properly within the N.C.A.A. event, advancing to the spherical of 16 the place they led eventual champion Baylor halfway by the second half earlier than wilting.
Wright mentioned that on Monday he was watching movie and determining who would substitute Moore on out-of-bounds performs and on the press-break offense when he referred to as Gillespie to ask if he wanted to deal with the crew about Moore’s absence.
“No approach,” Gillespie instructed him. “All people is sweet. Don’t fear about it.”
The best way Saturday evening unfolded, maybe he ought to have.