SAN ANTONIO (AP) — They chanted his name from the cheap seats: “Di-Vin-cen-zo, Di-Vin-cen-zo.” By the time Donte DiVincenzo was done doing his damage, Villanova had another title and college basketball had its newest star.
The redhead kid with the nickname Big Ragu came off the bench to score 31 points Monday and lift ‘Nova to another blowout tournament victory — this time 79-62 over Michigan for its second title in three seasons.
The sophomore guard had 12 points and an assist during a first-half run to help the Wildcats (36-4) pull ahead, then scored nine straight for Villanova midway through the second to put the game away. He capped it with a 3-pointer from a step behind the arc that he celebrated with a knowing wink over to TV announcers Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery on the sideline.
Villanova won all six games by double digits over this tournament run, joining Michigan State (2000), Duke (2001) and North Carolina (2009) in that rare air.
“I thought we played our best game in the championship game,” coach Jay Wright said.
The last team to win its two Final Four games by 16 or more: UCLA in 1968. During the dynasty.
One key question: Does Wright’s team belong on the list of the best of all-time?
Maybe so, considering the way Villanova dismantled everyone in front of it in a tournament that was dripping with upsets, underdogs and at least the appearance of parity.
Maybe so, considering the Wildcats won in seemingly every way imaginable. This victory came two nights after they set a Final Four record with 18 3-pointers, and one week after they relied more on defense in a win over Texas Tech in the Elite Eight.
That debate’s for later.
DiVincenzo squashed any questions about this game with a 10-for-15 shooting night — 5 for 7 from 3 —that was really better than that, making him an easy winner for most outstanding player in the Final Four.
With Michigan refusing to go away early in the second half, he opened his game-sealing run with an around-the-back dribble to get to the hoop and get fouled. On the other end, he delivered a two-handed rejection of Michigan’s Charles Matthews — his second block of the game — when Matthews tried to bring it into the paint.
“Blocked shots, definitely,” DiVincenzo said when asked if he enjoys 3s or rejections more. “I pride myself on defense and just bringing energy to the team.”
The 3 that sealed it came from a big step behind the arc and gave Villanova a 62-44 lead with a bit less than 8 minutes left.
About the only drama left was whether DiVincenzo could unwrap himself from his teammates’ mob hug to toss the ball underhanded toward the scoreboard after the buzzer. He succeeded there, too.
Mikal Bridges finished with 19 in what could be his final audition for the NBA. Player of the Year Jalen Brunson was celebrating despite an off night — nine points and two rebounds. His struggles barely mattered.
What a couple months it’s been for Philly. First the Eagles. Now this. The Super Bowl, though, was a classic. This one was only beautiful to one team.
Michigan (33-8) came out playing tough-nosed defense it relied on over a 14-game winning streak that got the Wolverines to their second final in six years.
Moe Wagner scored 11 early points to continue his great play in the Final Four. Villanova started 1 for 9 from 3-point range. And yet, after DiVincenzo banged down a 3 from a step behind the arc for Villanova’s second of the night, coach John Beilein looked at the scoreboard and saw his team behind, 23-21.
“The way DiVincenzo shot the ball, it was just incredible for us to try to win that game with the roll he went on,” Beilein said.
If his first 3 wasn’t demoralizing enough, DiVincenzo made another, then took a bounce pass from Brunson for a dunk, then paid it forward with an assist to Omari Spellman. It was part of a 23-7 run that gave the Wildcats a nine-point lead at halftime; they never looked back.
For the record, DiVincenzo has no problem starting games on the bench.
He’s been willing to do whatever’s needed since he arrived in 2015. His season cut short because of a knee injury, he was healthy enough to run the scout squad for Villanova during its first title run. Some on the team said he did Oklahoma star Buddy Hield better than Hield.
But maybe a more apt comparison is to … Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?
DiVincenzo joins them in the rare club of players to crack 30 points while also shooting better than 66 percent from the floor in a Final Four game.
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