2018 NCAA National Championship Game Recap



2018 NCAA National Championship Game Recap

Mike Keeley

For the second time in three seasons, the Villanova Wildcats are National Champions. Led by an unconscious 31-point performance by sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo, the Wildcats weathered an early storm by an active and physical Michigan defense to win the championship comfortably, 79-62.

The game started with junior guard Jalen Brunson (9 PTS) showing why he is this year’s Naismith Award Winner by scoring on each of the Wildcats’ first two possessions. However, Wolverines junior forward Moritz Wagner justified the hype surrounding him as well, matching Brunson with a bucket and two free throws in the opening minutes. After his free throws and with freshman forward Omari Spellman on the bench, Wagner began to dominate. Listed at 6-11, Wagner was able to dominate the smaller Wildcats junior forward Eric Paschall inside while also showing off his shooting stroke with a three from the top of the arc.

“We weren’t prepared early for some of the things they were doing,” Wildcats head coach Jay Wright said.

At this point, DiVincenzo Show started. With a variety of step-backs, threes, and drives, DiVincenzo (five rebounds, three assisys and two blocks) put up 18 points in the first half en route to winning Final Four Most Valuable Player.

“The guys did a great job of finding me, and I just found myself in a rhythm,” DiVincenzo said.

Wright credited DiVincenzo’s MVP performance to the Villanova mentality he tries to instill in all his players.

“We want all our players to have a clear mind,” Wright said. “Instead of taking another shot, a heat check, he’ll make the right pass.”

Seemingly singlehandedly willing the Wildcats back into the lead, there was a point in the half where DiVincenzo had 18 points, and none of his teammates had more than four. Most notably, national semifinal star Paschall was held scoreless in the first half. Along with DiVincenzo, the Wildcats’ comeback was fueled by the fact that the Wolverines’ physical defense, which stifled the Wildcats’ offense early, also led to Wright’s squad entering the bonus with more than seven minutes left in the half. Always a good free throw shooting unit, the Wildcats shot 5-6 from the line in the first half, capitalizing on this advantage. Behind Michigan’s foul trouble and DiVincenzo’s whirlwind performance, the Wildcats went into the locker room at halftime with a nine-point lead, 37-28.

Coming out of the break, the Wildcats refused to let up and risk letting a talented Wolverines squad back into the game. After Wagner and Wildcats junior forward Mikal Bridges traded twos in the first minute Paschall, scoreless in the first half, hit two big shots for five of his six points on the night to stretch the lead to 14. The Wildcats won their six games on the way to the title by an average margin of 17.7 points. Similar to the rest of the tournament, once Wright’s team claimed a double-digit lead early in the second half, the opponent never got within 10 points. The credit for that feat in a championship game can largely go to the all-around play of Bridges. After scoring only four points in the first half, Bridges caught fire in the final 20 minutes with 15 points in the second half on 5-of-6 shooting (3-of-4 from deep).  This was done while guarding the Wolverines’ biggest offensive threats, and often even switching on to the much larger Wagner and holding his own. It was especially apparent in the second half, when Wagner only scored six points, after 11 in the first. Bridges stressed after the game the importance of switching and team defense in slowing down the Wolverines’ biggest offensive threat.

“We were just being more aggressive,” Bridges said. “Just trying to help more, not just one guy on him.”

Despite the growing deficit, Wolverines senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rakhman, in the last game of his college career, did all he could to give his team a chance, with a team leading 13 points in the second half (23 total). However, only one of his teammates, sophomore guard Zavier Simpson, scored more than five points in the final half of the college basketball season. Led by head coach John Beilein, the Wolverines played like a classic Beilein team, with a stout defense, but at the end of the day they did not possess enough of an offensive threat to prevent the #1 seed Wildcats from becoming the fourth team in 40 years to win National Championships twice in three years.