PHILADELPHIA, PA. 12/21/2019 – How about a holiday treat for the college basketball fans in Philadelphia, and the Nova Nation? They got a big treat as the top-ranked Kansas Jayhawks played the #18/14 Villanova Wildcats in the Big East/Big Twelve Battle. This was the 22nd time in program history that the Wildcats faced the number one team in the nation. Their record is now 7 – 15 as the Wildcats knocked off the Jayhawks 56 – 55 before an excited sellout crowd of 20,706 at the Wells Fargo Center.
“They deserve so much credit coming into this environment and playing this game, executing like they did,” Villanova Coach Jay Wright said about Kansas. “That’s why they are the number one team in the country. We were fortunate. Sometimes we played well enough and gutted it out down the stretch with great defensive plays.”
The Wildcats held the Jayhawks off the scoreboard for the last 1:49 of the contest.
The deciding points came on a three-pointer by Jermaine Samuels with 20 seconds left in regulation. Samuels scored a game-high tying 15 points.
“We were running a play for me and Collin,” said Samuels about the critical offensive play. “I saw him attack and thought this would be a good time to catch and shoot. If they are going to give us threes, take them while you can. I just stepped into it and shot it.”
The game still had thrills over the next twenty ticks of the clock. Kansas got the ball back off a Villanova errant pass turnover on the inbounds play. It was the third such play for Nova in that stretch.
There was 11.2 seconds left. The Jayhawks got the ball to Devon Dotson, who also had 15 points. He drove from the right guarded by a taller Saddiq Bey. Dotson got a floater away, but it bounced off the back rim as the horn sounded.
Kansas had a 55 – 51 lead on a basket by Christian Braun at the 1:49 mark. He missed the free throw. The Jayhawks would not score again. Villanova came up short on their possession, but Gillespie got a steal and layup, 2 of his 12 points, to cut the deficit to two points with just over a minute to play. Eventually, it set up the deciding play for Samuels.
“I was playing the ball screen,” said Gillespie about the steal. “When there is a guy in front of us we attack from behind. I wound up getting it.”
The game had a slogging through the weeds feel, which may have been better for Nova. The score was tied at halftime. Both teams played their game. For the Wildcats it was an outside game where they attempted a program record 41 three-pointers. The Cats converted 10 of those shots from distance and had a 30 – 9 edge. Kansas (9 – 2) went inside and took 45 shots from inside the arc. The Points in the Paint differential was 38 – 20 for the Jayhawks. Center Udoka Azbuike scored 12 points making 6 of his 10 attempts. He added a game-high 11 rebounds.
“We did a good job defensively, we were on every shot,” said Wright. “So were they. When you play them you struggle to find ways to score. You try to match them defensively. I thought we were close. And that was enough playing at home.”
The last time Villanova defeated the top-ranked team in the nation was against Kansas 64 – 59 in the NCAA Tournament regional final. This game still had meaning.
“This would have been a great game to win for seeding purposes for both teams,” said Kansas Coach Bill Self. “In the big scheme of things I think that our team benefited from playing this game. We got better today. There were some things in the game that were positive for us, like us growing up even though the outcome wasn’t great.”
Maybe they will meet again in March?
The Wildcats (9 – 2) open Big East play hosting Xavier on December 30th.
Written By: Glenn Papazian