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Kansas wins, Villanova learns

Maybe, finally, what was being asked of Villanova's basketball team was simply too much.

Maybe, finally, what was being asked of Villanova's basketball team was simply too much.

It would have arguably been the biggest win for any group of Wildcats since that unforgettable 40 minutes in Lexington almost a quarter-century ago.

This time, they weren't playing for forever. Still, for the second time in 3 years, they were one win away from becoming one of the last eight teams on the bracket sheet. But standing in their way was the top seed in the Midwest Regional, Kansas, which had lost three times all season, two by a total of four points. The 'Cats dropped that many in the span of a week in late January. Each by at least 10.

All of which meant whatever you wanted it to, when the teams took the court last night at Ford Field, in the second half of a Sweet 16 doubleheader. Because you never really know when the Madness might take over. Just ask Davidson.

If you had told the 'Cats 2 weeks ago that they were just going to be in the 65-team field, they would have signed on without blinking. Even if the Selection Committee had made them a 16th seed in Siberia.

This was a team that was allegedly still a year away. With no seniors and a bunch of freshmen. Yet, here they were, trying to become the first No. 12 seed to ever beat a No. 1.

Unfortunately, the Jayhawks didn't come this far to become a historical footnote. They were supposed to be here. If not beyond. There's a reason they were a double-digit favorite. Still, it's not as if they hadn't come up short before when it got to one-and-gone.

Not this run, though. KU 72, Villanova 57.

The 'Cats knew their only chance was to come up with a near-perfect effort. They didn't make it any easier on themselves by spotting Kansas a 16-point lead after the first 9 minutes. The Jayhawks, who have a few guys who are going to play at the next level, were making threes.

"I'm a little disappointed in our effort. But you've got to give Kansas credit for that. We had some great looks, but didn't make them," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "You have to have everything working for you. We didn't get it done. I didn't think we battled like we normally do.

"We didn't play with enough toughness. You can't make mistakes. You have to be solid. You get looks, it's simple. You have to make shots. "

Obviously, the dimensions of this dome didn't bother Kansas. They were also making some dunks that figure to show up on the nearest highlights. It's who they are, and what they do. And when they're right, they do it as well as anyone.

The 'Cats got it back down to seven, but 3 1/2 minutes later the margin was right back where it had been. Villanova just couldn't get anything going. KU had a little bit to do with that. At halftime, it was 41-22. The 'Cats had come back from 18 down in the second half against Clemson a week earlier. This wasn't Clemson.

At the break, KU was shooting 16-for-27, to Villanova's 8-for-30. You don't need to be an MIT grad to know that those numbers are fatal. Russell Robinson and Brandon Rush had two more points than all of the Wildcats combined.

In the second half, the best the 'Cats could do was cut it to a dozen. And that came with a little more than a minute to go.

Villanova is now 2-8 against top seeds. Both wins occurred 23 years ago, en route to posterity.

The Jayhawks (34-3) will now get Davidson (29-6), the 10th seed, tomorrow afternoon for the right to move on to San Antonio. The other Wildcats beat third-seeded Wisconsin (31-5), the Big Ten champion, in the opener, 73-56. Last weekend, of course, they eliminated Big East champ Georgetown. Cinderella, or David? Either way, it's a huggable storyline.

And, for the fifth time in 8 years with his third program, KU coach Bill Self is one step away from his first Final Four.

"We did a pretty good job defensively on them," Self said, "and we made some shots early. "

Scottie Reynolds was Villanova's lone double-figure scorer with 11 points, but shot only 4-for-13 from the floor. As a team, the Wildcats had just five assists on 21 field goals.

"As a group, we came together these last few weeks. The upperclassmen pushed us to take ownership of this team. They put us in a great position," Reynolds said. "I was just forcing the issue some [on offense], a little too much. I was playing with the ball too much. They have quick guards. They were forcing me around the perimeter.

"With Kansas, you have to concentrate on everyone. They did a great job of seeing our breakdowns. "

So Villanova heads into the offseason, knowing that the horizon looks to be in capable hands. For the second straight season, it will start out in the Top 25. Only this time, it will legitimately belong.

They weren't supposed to get past this round. But since they were here, it was OK to get greedy. Especially after Davidson won. You never know for certain if you're getting back, regardless of the promise. Obviously, it didn't end the way they wanted. But 64 other teams will go home saying the same thing.

Losing to Kansas can't erase all the things that went right for this team in the last month. They did just enough to earn an at-large invitation. They came together as one, when a lot of people didn't think they had it in them. Then, they managed to stick around for an extra couple of games, when just getting to the dance would have constituted a successful scenario.

They didn't have a good season. They had a terrific one, given where they were and where they finished.

"This is going to help us. We'll learn from this, a lot. We'll put it away, and refer to it in the offseason," Wright said. "Our guys try, but when you're young, you're not always clear about your role.

"There's pain right now. But we're going to make this a positive. "

Because they got to where they did, next season can't get here quickly enough. Or next March. When this experience could have some lasting impact.