BOSTON — The Villanova men’s basketball team saw last year’s season cut short in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. A year later, the Wildcats are headed to the Final Four for the second time in three years.
Villanova (34-4), the No. 1 seed in the East, outlasted No. 3 Texas Tech 71-59 in front of 19,169 at TD Garden on Sunday.
Unlike their first three tournament games, the Wildcats struggled mightily in three-point shooting, sinking just four, their second-lowest of the season. Percentage-wise, the team connected on 16.7 percent of their shots beyond the arc, a stark cry from the 44 total triples scored in the preceding tournament competitions.
“They really did a good job of sticking to the game plan, playing team defense,” junior guard Jalen Brunson said. “But for us, if shots aren’t falling, we try to make sure that’s not affecting us, that we’re getting stops on the defensive end, and still having confidence that we can take shots.
Brunson scored 15 points and was named the East region’s Most Outstanding Player.
“Everyone has confidence in each other,” Brunson said. “And I specifically remember that I was missing a lot of shots, and my teammates looking me in the eye in the huddle and saying, ‘Jalen, keep shooting the ball. Keep shooting the ball. Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it.’ That’s just the confidence they have in me, and we have in each other.”
After falling behind early by eight points, the Wildcats rallied back to take a 13 point lead (36-23) to the locker room at the half. The team used its defensive strengths to compensate for offensive shortcomings, racking up 51 rebounds, the program’s best since Nov. 2016.
“We said to the guys, ‘Hey, don’t worry about our offense, let’s keep grinding it out defensively,’” coach Jay Wright said. “We were getting decent shots. We were just making some poor decisions. I just wanted them to keep doing what they were doing. I thought it would pay off eventually.”
The Wildcats advance to face the No. 1 seed from the west side of the bracket, the Kansas Jayhawks, in San Antonio at 8:49 p.m. Saturday, The game is on TBS, and the winner will move on to the National Championship game.
The trip south marks Villanova’s fifth Final Four appearance in school history and third under Wright. It is also the program’s second appearance in three years, after winning the national title in 2016.
“…when you realize you’ve made it through the final eight and you’re going to go, you just feel so blessed,” Wright said. “You think, why me? You know there’s a lot of great teams out there, a lot of great programs.”