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Villanova knocks off Kansas to reach Final Four

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The shots that were falling through the hoop so easily for Villanova during the first three games of the NCAA tournament kept falling off the rim Saturday night, but Ryan Arcidiacono stepped up with the South Regional final on the line and carried the Wildcats into the Final Four.

Ryan Arcidiacono, left, and Daniel Ochefu of Villanova hold up the South Regional Final Championship trophy of the NCAA Basketball Tournament in Louisville, Kentucky on March 26, 2016.
Ryan Arcidiacono, left, and Daniel Ochefu of Villanova hold up the South Regional Final Championship trophy of the NCAA Basketball Tournament in Louisville, Kentucky on March 26, 2016.Read more(CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The shots that were falling through the hoop so easily for Villanova during the first three games of the NCAA tournament kept falling off the rim Saturday night, but Ryan Arcidiacono stepped up with the South Regional final on the line and carried the Wildcats into the Final Four.

Arcidiacono, the Cats' senior co-captain, sank four clutch free throws and tipped the ball away on a potential game-tying possession by Kansas with 4.6 seconds to play to send the Wildcats into their first Final Four since 2009 with a 64-59 victory over the top-seeded Jayhawks before 19,422 at the KFC Yum! Center.

The Wildcats (33-5) will take on Oklahoma in the national semifinals next Saturday in Houston.

After knocking down nearly 60 percent of their shots in the first three games and sinking 33 three-point baskets, the Cats shot only 40.4 percent against the Jayhawks and made just four threes. Their top three-point shooter, Kris Jenkins, sat out 8 minutes, 38 seconds of the second half after picking up his fourth personal foul with 13:37 remaining.

But their defense kept them in the game, forcing 16 turnovers with 11 steals - five by Mikal Bridges - and holding Perry Ellis, the Jayhawks' leading scorer, to only four points.

"When you're a parent, you think your kids are the greatest," said Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose shirt was drenched from his team's locker-room celebration. "Then when you see them live that out and become great, it just makes your heart swell. Even if they lost, you still think they're great.

"But when you win, you can say they proved to everyone else that they were great. I'm so proud and happy for them."

Playing on his 22nd birthday, Arcidiacono had 13 points for Villanova, as did Jenkins and Josh Hart, and every point was needed down the stretch. The Wildcats went the last 4:28 without a field goal, missing their last five shots after Bridges hit a follow-up basket to give them a 56-52 lead.

"We just needed to grind it out," Arcidiacono said. "It was unfortunate that Kris got into foul trouble, but we got into a position where Mikal stepped up. We wanted to make it a street fight, an ugly game, and I think we did that."

Kansas, which started the night with a 17-game winning streak, cut the deficit to two on a short shot in the lane by Wayne Selden Jr. with 2:15 remaining, but failed to score on its next two trips. Arcidiacono then was fouled with 33.1 seconds to play and again at the 22.3-second mark, and sank both ends of a one-and-one each time to give 'Nova a 60-57 lead.

After Frank Mason III hit a layup to cut the deficit to one, Jenkins sank two free throws with 13.3 seconds left for a three-point lead. Kansas had a chance to tie with a three, but Arcidiacono tipped the ball away from Mason and Bridges fell on the loose ball and called timeout with 4.6 seconds to play.

Jalen Brunson sank two free throws with 3.5 seconds left for the Wildcats, who made 18 of 19 from the line. Hart then intercepted Kansas' final inbounds pass and squeezed the ball, and the celebration began, capped by the players and coaches cutting down the nets.

"I caught the ball and I'm hearing Ryan yell, 'Ball, ball, ball!' " Hart said. "I didn't know what to do. I was just in shock. All the work that these two [seniors Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu] put in, they were great leaders. It's a great feeling."

Devonte' Graham led the Jayhawks with 17 points. Ellis, who led Kansas in the tournament with a 23.0-point average, made just 1 of 5 shots from the floor.

"We played zone and man-to-man, but we always tried to find out where he was," Wright said. "We were very aware of trying to limit his touches."

The Wildcats led by as many as nine in the first half with the help of a 13-0 run that featured eight turnovers by the Jayhawks in a 5:08 span. They took a 32-25 advantage into the locker room at the break, but Kansas held them to just one field goal and six points in the opening 8:51 of the second half and took the lead at 42-38.

Selden's routine three-point play upped the Kansas lead to five, but the Wildcats then mounted a 10-0 run, capped by three-point baskets from Arcidiacono and Hart, to take the lead for good at 50-45 with 7:58 remaining.

jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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