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INSTANT ANALYSIS: DiVincenzo, D lead Nova to Michigan rout

April 3, 2018

Villanova guard Donte DiVincenzo, center, celebrates with teammates at the end of the championship game against Michigan in the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Monday, April 2, 2018, in San Antonio. Villanova won 79-62. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Villanova looked nervous early, a step slow. All those 3-pointers the Wildcats typically make, clanging.

Donte DiVincenzo gave the Wildcats an unexpected spark. Their defense, unsurprisingly, did the rest.

DiVincenzo scored 31 points off the bench, Villanova swarmed the 3-point arc and the Wildcats turned their second national title in three years into a rout with a 79-62 victory over Michigan on Monday night.

“I thought we played our best game in the championship game,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

Villanova (36-4) started flat at both ends, unable to slow the Wolverines off the dribble or come close to matching their Final Four 3-point record against Kansas two days earlier.

DiVincenzo provided an immediate offensive spark, stroking in long 3-pointers and driving hard to the basket after entering the game at 17:38. He finished 10 for 15 from the floor, 5 of 7 from the 3-point arc.

On a frustrating night for national player of the year Jalen Brunson, the sophomore guard who has been called the Big Ragu and the Michael Jordan of Delaware became the catalyst to a title.

“Sometimes those individual performances just beat you and you just say, OK, you take off your hat and say, good game,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.

The early defensive struggles shifted as the Wildcats shifted their feet — their strategy.

Switching at every chance early, the Wildcats began mixing up their defense, occasionally fighting over screens, sometimes sliding over with help. The strategy caused confusion and hesitation among the Wolverines, allowing Villanova’s defenders to stay in front of drivers, time to get out to perimeter shooters.

Michigan (34-7) finished 3 of 23 from the arc.

“They were switching every screen, everything that we did for a good part of the game, and they changed just enough to confuse us a little bit,” Beilein said. “They forced us into a one-on-one game.”

Villanova did some of its best work on Michigan big man Moe Wagner — after an early outburst.

Wagner, who had 24 points and 15 rebounds in the national semifinals, scored nine points in the opening six minutes, confidently dropping in 3-pointers and driving to the lane. The Wildcats swarmed him inside and out after that, then wore him out by forcing him to fight through a multitude of screens on defense. Wagner finished with seven more points after the early outburst and had trouble getting back to the rim for defensive rebounds, allowing the Wildcats to grab 12 on the O-glass.

“We were just being more aggressive and just trying to help more, looming toward him,” Villanova’s Mikal Bridges said.

Villanova stormed its way into the title game by making a record 18 3-pointers in a rout of Kansas.

Michigan needed to chase the Wildcats off the 3-point line to prevent another parade of 3s and managed to do that early, forcing the Wildcats to miss eight of their first nine shots from the arc while building a seven-point lead.

Once DiVincenzo came in, Michigan had no answer.

The 6-foot-5 sophomore hit Villanova’s first 3-pointer at 12:41 and kept scoring. He hit a couple of long 3s to force Michigan to extend its defense even farther and that opened up driving lanes, along with a pass out of a trap from DiVincenzo to Omari Spellman for a dunk.

DiVincenzo had 18 points in 18 first-half minutes and one blocked shot — after missing a layup, checking on a photographer and hustling back.

“If someone’s hot, feed him,” said Brunson, who had nine points on 4-of-13 shooting.

Wagner, Villanova’s biggest matchup problem, had his way early while the Wildcats were clanging away, a combination right out of the Wolverines’ how-to-beat-Villanova playbook.

But while DiVincenzo was creating an inferno of offense, Villanova began closing out on Wagner along the arc and in around him in the lane after his early outburst. He had five points the rest of the half.

By shutting down Wagner and switching up their ball-screen defense, the Wildcats turned a seven-point deficit into a 37-28 halftime lead.

“They obviously played the drive better,” Wagner said. “I guess I wasn’t as aggressive anymore, turned it over a couple times. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They’re a really good team defensively.”

Villanova’s run continued into the second half, the lead building to 51-33. Michigan had one run left, thanks to a tightened defense, trimming the lead to 56-44 shortly after Brunson headed to the bench with his fourth foul.

DiVincenzo sparked again, scoring nine straight points, and the Wildcats kept crowding the 3-point line to prevent any kind of comeback, riding off to their second national title in three years.

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