Kansas controls Villanova to seal title game trip
Kansas coach Bill Self said McCormack followed the game plan to the letter and delivered the exclamation point
NEW ORLEANS -- Kansas center David McCormack picked a fine time to flex his muscle.
McCormack scored a season-high 25 points and the Jayhawks overpowered Villanova in an 81-65 win that sends Kansas to Monday's national championship game.
Kansas coach Bill Self said McCormack followed the game plan to the letter and delivered the exclamation point.
"He wanted us to have an inside presence. If you can have an inside presence, starting out early on, it opened it up," McCormack said.
All-American guard Ochai Agbaji scored 21 points and made his first six 3-pointers to trap Villanova in a can't-win quandary.
"In warmups and everything, all the shootarounds leading up to the game, just felt relaxed. Relaxed but confident," Agbaji said.
McCormack flexed early as Kansas surged to a 7-0 lead and Villanova never truly threatened. He made 10 of 12 from the field and Self said the 6-10 senior forward often spends multiple hours per day in treatment on a chronic foot injury to be able to take the court.
"We just shot it so well. I think the guys like shooting in this building," Self said. "How well we shoot it in large part probably depends on Ochai in large part, because he's going to take the majority of them."
McCormack averaged 10.1 points per game this season and his previous single-game high in 2021-22 was 22 points. But Villanova was short on size and muscle, and the Wildcats couldn't make adjustments without opening the door for Agbaji.
"Even though we haven't really talked about it like this, these guys haven't really tasted what the NCAA Tournament is all about," Self said. "I think there's added value on this because of what we lost out on in 2020 (when the NCAA Tournament was canceled)."
Clogging the lane kept the Jayhawks open from 3-point range, and Kansas drilled 13 of 24 attempts.
"They played great," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "We want to make sure they get the credit they deserve. They played a great game tonight."
Christian Braun splashed a pair of 3s 90 seconds apart to separate Kansas from Villanova by 16 points and punctuate a stellar perimeter shooting display with 2:32 left before a parade of free throws began.
Kansas (33-6) made 10 of 13 from the line and scored on 34 of its 54 possessions.
Collin Gillespie led Villanova with 17 points, including 5 of 8 shooting from 3-point range. Brandon Slater chipped in 16 with four treys.
Approaching the under-4 media timeout and with the shot clock at 1, Braun hit all net on the left wing for a 3 that stretched Kansas' lead back to double-digits at 71-59. Agbaji blocked Jermaine Samuels' attempted answer at the other end and was fouled at the other end to send the Jayhawks into celebration mode.
Samuels converted a three-point play with 6:10 remaining, powering through Agbaji's grasp, but Kansas got the answer on the other end with a lefty hook by McCormack to push the Jayhawks' lead to 66-58.
Eric Dixon dropped in two free throws with 9:08 to go, trimming the Villanova deficit to 62-55. But after a stop, McCormack got easily gained position on Dixon and drew a foul. He bounced in both free throws and the KU lead was again nine.
The poster-worthy play of the game occurred at the 10:52 mark in the second half.
McCormack's authoritative right-hand slam over the outstretched right arm and head of Samuels at the 10:52 mark gave the big man 19 points.
Villanova's timeout permitted McCormack a moment in the spotlight of a game he'd helped dominate from the opening tip.
"It looks like he's getting it with a guy behind him, but it's because of where they're getting him the ball. He was outstanding," Wright said.
Kansas plays in its 10th national championship game in program history on Monday. The Jayhawks won titles in 1952, 1988 and 2008.