Villanova already has played one team that it defeated in last season’s Final Four en route to another national championship, and you all remember how that turned out, a 73-46 thrashing last month at the hands of Michigan – at home.
Now the Wildcats will meet their other 2018 Final Four opponent on Saturday – undefeated and top-ranked Kansas, a team that has defeated 38 consecutive opponents at Allen Fieldhouse while atop the AP poll.
“The Michigan game, it was a difficult experience to go through but a great learning experience,” ‘Nova coach Jay Wright said Thursday before the Cats headed west. “It really taught our young guys a lot. I wish there was another way you could learn but that’s usually the best way. Kansas will be the same.”
Senior guard Phil Booth said the Wildcats are looking forward to the challenge of a tough venue against the Jayhawks (8-0).
“It’s great for the team to get a good road test like this,” he said. “Michigan was a good test for us, we learned from that. Going to Kansas will be a big one for us but it’s just coming together for a good road game, something we want to do.”
The Wildcats (8-3), ranked 17th, knocked down a Final Four record 18 three-point baskets in their 95-79 win over the Jayhawks in the national semifinal in San Antonio. Eric Paschall scored 24 points, going 10 of 11 from the floor including four made threes.
“It’s a hard matchup because he probably was the best player for them against us last year, and they had several,” Kansas coach Bill Self said Thursday at a news conference on campus in Lawrence. “He was the best of the best last year against us.”
With Udoka Azubuike sitting out Saturday’s game with a sprained ankle, the only starter from March on the court for the Jayhawks will be guard Lagerald Vick. Booth and Paschall are the sole returnees from Villanova’s starting five.
The Cats saw their 25-game Big 5 winning streak broken Tuesday night in a 78-75 loss to Penn. Wright said a key in the game was attention to detail, that the Quakers executed at the level necessary to win the game while his team did not.
“I thought Penn was a really good, tough team to prepare us for them,” he said. “Now, (the Jayhawks) are a lot more athletic and bigger. But all these experiences for our young guys are what’s going to help us learn. You can tell them a lot of things as a coach, but nothing impacts them more than the experience.”
The Wildcats also may have been helped by playing at the Palestra. Allen Fieldhouse is similar in that it’s at the top of college basketball’s most revered arenas, a noisy environment when its 16,300 seats are filled as they will be Saturday.
“Kind of like the Palestra on steroids,” Wright said.
Villanova’s players were scheduled to practice there Friday morning to get a feel for the place. Paschall said he had heard about Allen for years from a coach he knows, current Kansas assistant Fred Quartlebaum.
“He told me a lot about how crazy it is” Paschall said. “So it’s going to be exciting to play there.”
Wildcats freshman guard Jahvon Quinerly, who caused a stir Tuesday night with an Instagram post that reflected his frustration over a lack of playing time, issued an apology Thursday “for the embarrassment and controversy I have caused our program.
“I regret what I said and have learned an important lesson about the power and reach of social media and the impact of having an impulsive reaction in a public forum,” he said in a statement.
Saturday, noon at Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kan.
TV, radio and online streaming: ESPN, WTEL-AM (610), ESPN.com/watch
Records: Villanova, 8-3, ranked No. 17 by the AP; Kansas, 8-0, ranked No. 1.
Coaches: Villanova, Jay Wright (18th season, 430-168); Kansas, Bill Self (16th season, 455-96).
History: Villanova leads the series, 4-3. The Wildcats have won their last two games against the Jayhawks, both in the NCAA tournament – 64-59 in the 2016 South Regional final, and 95-79 in the 2018 Final Four national semifinals.
What to watch for
Each team has lost a lot of production since they met on that March night in San Antonio, with the Jayhawks returning only senior guard Lagerald Vick and the Wildcats coming back with seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. But Kansas has gotten terrific play from redshirt junior forward Dedric Lawson, a transfer from Memphis who is averaging 19.1 points and 10.6 rebounds. Vick averages 16.3 points and is shooting better than 60 percent on three-point shots in his last seven games.