5 stats that popped in KU's Final Four loss to Villanova
San Antonio — When Kansas couldn’t come up with any solutions for Villanova’s bombs-away offensive attack Saturday night at The Alamodome, an ultimately successful season came to a close two victories shy of a national title and enduring glory.
The Jayhawks’ faulty 3-point defense proved costly in a 95-79 defeat. Still, plenty of other subplots shaped the result, sending Villanova to the NCAA Tournament championship game and KU back to Lawrence.
Here are five statistics that stood out — four that led to a Final Four loss and one a glimmer of promise for next year — in the 39th and final game of another memorable Kansas basketball season.
Not much offensive flow
For all the defensive problems Kansas encountered against Villanova, the offense didn’t exactly help the Jayhawks’ chances of keeping up, either.
Over the course of 40 minutes, KU made 28 field goals in the national semifinal, and only 8 of those were set up by an assist.
The Wildcats’ well-positioned help defense made it difficult for even All-American senior point guard Devonte’ Graham to drive, force help and kick the ball out for open shots. Instead, Graham had to take on a bulk of the scoring load (23 points) without making his typical impact as a facilitator.
Kansas went nearly 10 full minutes into the game without an assist, and trailed by 14 by the time Graham passed to Lagerald Vick for the team’s first.
In the final game of his distinguished Kansas career, the senior from Raleigh, N.C., only distributed 3 assists, a season low for Graham, who entered the Final Four averaging 7.3 per game.
His friend and fellow senior, Svi Mykhailiuk, also contributed 3 assists. Sophomore Malik Newman and freshman Marcus Garrett had 1 apiece.
The previous low for assists in a game for Kansas this season was 10, in a January home loss to Texas Tech.
Villanova assisted on 20 of its 36 field goals.
In order to have a chance to beat Villanova — one of the best offensive teams in the country, if not the best — Kansas needed to maximize the impact of its starting center.
Based on measurements alone, it seemed 7-foot, 280-pound Udoka Azubuike might be too much for the Wildcats’ bigs — Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree all are listed at 6-9 or smaller — to handle in the paint.
Even though Azubuike was close to unstoppable when he got the ball in his hands in the paint, those opportunities rarely presented themselves thanks to Villanova’s active, denying and helping defense. As usual, Azubuike shot a high percentage, making 4 of 6 attempts. But Villanova made sure a potential mismatch inside didn’t turn into a disaster. KU’s 7-footer finished with 8 points in 26 minutes.
Azubuike played more minutes against Villanova than he had since Feb. 24 against Texas Tech. But he never dominated inside enough to force Villanova defenders to leave KU’s skilled 3-point shooters on the perimeter. When the Wildcats did have to collapse, their rotations were too sound to be harmed.
No stopping Paschall
The Villanova starter who entered the Final Four with relatively little buzz quickly became one of the keys to the Wildcats’ unstoppable offense.
Junior forward Eric Paschall, who made 31 3-pointers all season before arriving at The Alamodome, drained 4 of 5 from outside and didn’t miss a single attempt inside the arc en route to a 10-for-11 shooting night and a game-high 24 points.
When Paschall, once a protege of KU assistant Fred Quartlebaum, wasn’t knocking down 3-pointers, his powerful takes inside provided Villanova with three dunks, a layup and two more buckets.
The versatile junior transfer, playing in his first Final Four game after sitting out in 2016, easily bested previous career highs of 19 points and 8 field goals made.
A threat to shoot from outside or drive and finish in the paint, Paschall more than made up for a relatively subpar night for All-Big East forward Mikal Bridges (4-for-8 shooting, 10 points).
The Jayhawks’ defense couldn’t account for every Villanova player on the floor because the Wildcats’ lineups were so multi-dimensional. As a result, Paschall had as much to do with Villanova running away from KU as anyone.
The antithesis of Villanova’s offense in the opening minutes of the national semifinal, the Jayhawks couldn’t settle in and get comfortable the way their opponents did.
Kansas took a short-lived lead at 2-0 on the opening possession. However, what followed set the stage for the Wildcats’ 16-point dismantling of KU in the Jayhawks’ second-largest defeat of the year (they lost by 18 at Oklahoma State to close the regular season).
Kansas missed 9 of its next 11 shots after Azubuike’s early score, and turned the ball over five times in the first 6:49 of play.
Before the Jayhawks could regroup offensively, their fifth giveaway led to — what else — a Villanova 3-pointer, and an 18-point deficit. All before KU made its fourth basket of the game.
Some promise for De Sousa’s future
Not every stat that jumps off the box score in a loss has to come with negative connotations.
One of the seldom KU bright spots came in the activity of a freshman reserve who could be a massive part of coach Bill Self’s future plans.
Whether by coincidence or as a direct result of his presence, the Jayhawks finally settled down and got to see the ball go through the net every once in a while once backup big Silvio De Sousa checked into the game.
Making just his 20th appearance for Kansas after arriving mid-season as an early prep graduate, De Sousa relieved Azubuike and began hitting the offensive glass and providing Kansas with some life.
In just six first-half minutes, De Sousa grabbed five offensive rebounds and scored 7 points, going 2 for 3 from the floor and making 3 of 4 free throws.
De Sousa tipped in his own miss, as well as one by Graham, as the 6-foot-9 forward from Angola scored all 7 of KU’s second-chance points in the first half.
By the end of the night, De Sousa didn’t score another basket, but finished with seven points and seven boards (six offensive) in just 10 minutes of action.
De Sousa grew much more comfortable in the past several weeks after an anticipated adjustment period for his first semester at Kansas. His confidence and effectiveness will only grow in the months ahead.
When the big man’s sophomore season begins this coming November, he will have Final Four experience, instead of no college basketball points of reference whatsoever.