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Behind DiVincenzo’s 31 Points, Villanova Wins Third National Championship

By Aidan Wilkins | @AidanJWilkins

Sports Capital Journalism Program

SAN ANTONIO — Villanova head coach Jay Wright had just cut down the net. He smiled as he gazed toward the crowd. He pumped his right fist just once, as if signaling that the job was done. His Villanova Wildcats had just captured their second national title in three seasons with a dominating 79-62 victory over the Michigan Wolverines.

“I never dreamt of this,” Wright said.

Villanova’s triumph was built upon a historic performance by the Wildcats.

Aside from the UCLA dynasty, with its 10 championships in 12 seasons from 1964 through 1975, Villanova became the ninth team to win two titles within three seasons or less, the first since Florida’s repeat champions in 2006 and 2007.

The Wildcats, 36-4, won each of their six tournament games by at least 12 points to become the fourth team in tournament history, and the first since North Carolina’s 2009 champions, to win every game by double digits. The Wildcats’ six victories were by an average of 17.7 points.

This time, the Wildcats were led by redshirt sophomore Donte DiVincenzo, whose career-high 31 points, on 10-of-15 shooting, made him one of the more unexpected choices as Most Outstanding Player.

“I did not think that I was going to have this kind of night,” DiVincenzo said, “because every night I come into a game, I just try to bring energy.”

Villanova’s championship-quality depth was reflected in a startling statistic. Junior guard Jalen Brunson, who won several national player of the year awards this weekend, had a streak of 45 consecutive games end. Brunson was limited to 4-for-13 shooting and nine points, and yet Michigan came no closer than 12 points in the last 18 minutes.

“We played 40 good minutes,” said Wright. “We need to get better. So I don’t think these kids will even think that we dominated the tournament. They’ll just think we played Villanova basketball.”

Wright joins elite company, becoming the 14th head coach to guide a team to two national championships, joining Mike Krzyzewski of Duke (5) and Roy Williams of North Carolina (3) as the only active coaches with multiple national titles.

Villanova now moves to 3-1 all time in national championship games after its 17-point victory. The Wildcats won their two previous titles by a combined five points: the 66-64 victory over Georgetown in 1985 and the buzzer-beating, 77-74 victory over North Carolina on Kris Jenkins’ shot in 2016.

Villanova became one of four national champions to lead the nation in scoring in that season, joining North Carolina (2005), Loyola Chicago (1963), and Ohio State (1960).

When asked about becoming one of four national champions and scoring champions, redshirt senior Denny Grace said, “We get our offense off of our defense a lot of times. A lot of times during the year, people were saying we were soft, we couldn’t play defense. We wanted to rededicate ourselves to what Villanova basketball is about. That’s defending and rebounding…the offense takes care of itself.”

Villanova also dominated the all-tournament team. Michigan junior Moe Wagner joined four Wildcats – Brunson, redshirt junior Mikal Bridges, redshirt junior Eric Paschall and DiVincenzo.

Brunson was not shocked by DiVincenzo’s big night. “He’s worked so hard to make himself the best player he can be every day,” Brunson said. “Honestly… this is very special. This is nothing surprising for us. We’ve seen Donte do this multiple times this year.”

Michigan fell to 1-6 in national championship games, with its second loss in the past six finals. After coach John Beilein cleared his bench, he hugged his players one by one. First Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who led the Wolverines with 23 points, then Wagner, then Duncan Robinson.

“We needed to play better,” Beilein said, “but even if we had played our best, it would have been very difficult to win that game with what DiVincenzo did. It was an incredible performance. Sometimes those individual performances just beat you, and you just say okay, you take your hat off and say good game. We played the best we could. And tonight [they] were better than us.”

By defeating the Wolverines, the Wildcats join elite company, becoming only the eighth school to win three NCAA championships. Villanova joins UCLA (11), Kentucky (8), North Carolina (6), Duke (5), Indiana (5), Connecticut (4) and Kansas (3).

When asked about where the latest national title puts Villanova in the national picture, former Wildcat guard and 2016 national champion Ryan Arcidiacono said, “The top. It has to, for sure. Two titles in three years. I mean, any team would trade for that.”

Villanova’s 36th victory set a school record for a season, breaking the previous mark of 35 held by the 2016 team.

Arcidiacono, whose pass helped create Jenkins’ game-winning shot two years ago, believes the 2018 Villanova team was better than his 2016 team. “They’re a more capable, high powered offense,” he said. “They play good defense. They’re really, really good.”

On a memorable championship night, there was the possibility that this generation of Wildcats may not be finished. “That team right there could win a lot of Final Fours,” Beilein said, “not just the 2018 one.”

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