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5 stats that popped in KU’s Final Four loss to Villanova

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) glances at the scoreboard during a timeout in the second half, Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) glances at the scoreboard during a timeout in the second half, Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. by Nick Krug

San Antonio — When Kansas couldn’t come up with any solutions for Villanova’s bombs-away offensive attack Saturday night at The Alamodome, an ultimately successful season came to a close two victories shy of a national title and enduring glory.

The Jayhawks’ faulty 3-point defense proved costly in a 95-79 defeat. Still, plenty of other subplots shaped the result, sending Villanova to the NCAA Tournament championship game and KU back to Lawrence.

Here are five statistics that stood out — four that led to a Final Four loss and one a glimmer of promise for next year — in the 39th and final game of another memorable Kansas basketball season.

Not much offensive flow

For all the defensive problems Kansas encountered against Villanova, the offense didn’t exactly help the Jayhawks’ chances of keeping up, either.

Over the course of 40 minutes, KU made 28 field goals in the national semifinal, and only 8 of those were set up by an assist.

The Wildcats’ well-positioned help defense made it difficult for even All-American senior point guard Devonte’ Graham to drive, force help and kick the ball out for open shots. Instead, Graham had to take on a bulk of the scoring load (23 points) without making his typical impact as a facilitator.

Kansas went nearly 10 full minutes into the game without an assist, and trailed by 14 by the time Graham passed to Lagerald Vick for the team’s first.

In the final game of his distinguished Kansas career, the senior from Raleigh, N.C., only distributed 3 assists, a season low for Graham, who entered the Final Four averaging 7.3 per game.

His friend and fellow senior, Svi Mykhailiuk, also contributed 3 assists. Sophomore Malik Newman and freshman Marcus Garrett had 1 apiece.

The previous low for assists in a game for Kansas this season was 10, in a January home loss to Texas Tech.

Villanova assisted on 20 of its 36 field goals.

Azubuike ineffective

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) gives Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) a slap on the chest as Azubuike checks out during the first half, Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) gives Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) a slap on the chest as Azubuike checks out during the first half, Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. by Nick Krug

In order to have a chance to beat Villanova — one of the best offensive teams in the country, if not the best — Kansas needed to maximize the impact of its starting center.

Based on measurements alone, it seemed 7-foot, 280-pound Udoka Azubuike might be too much for the Wildcats’ bigs — Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree all are listed at 6-9 or smaller — to handle in the paint.

Even though Azubuike was close to unstoppable when he got the ball in his hands in the paint, those opportunities rarely presented themselves thanks to Villanova’s active, denying and helping defense. As usual, Azubuike shot a high percentage, making 4 of 6 attempts. But Villanova made sure a potential mismatch inside didn’t turn into a disaster. KU’s 7-footer finished with 8 points in 26 minutes.

Azubuike played more minutes against Villanova than he had since Feb. 24 against Texas Tech. But he never dominated inside enough to force Villanova defenders to leave KU’s skilled 3-point shooters on the perimeter. When the Wildcats did have to collapse, their rotations were too sound to be harmed.

No stopping Paschall

Villanova forward Eric Paschall (4) delivers a dunk before Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) during the first half, Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Villanova forward Eric Paschall (4) delivers a dunk before Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) during the first half, Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. by Nick Krug

The Villanova starter who entered the Final Four with relatively little buzz quickly became one of the keys to the Wildcats’ unstoppable offense.

Junior forward Eric Paschall, who made 31 3-pointers all season before arriving at The Alamodome, drained 4 of 5 from outside and didn’t miss a single attempt inside the arc en route to a 10-for-11 shooting night and a game-high 24 points.

When Paschall, once a protege of KU assistant Fred Quartlebaum, wasn’t knocking down 3-pointers, his powerful takes inside provided Villanova with three dunks, a layup and two more buckets.

The versatile junior transfer, playing in his first Final Four game after sitting out in 2016, easily bested previous career highs of 19 points and 8 field goals made.

A threat to shoot from outside or drive and finish in the paint, Paschall more than made up for a relatively subpar night for All-Big East forward Mikal Bridges (4-for-8 shooting, 10 points).

The Jayhawks’ defense couldn’t account for every Villanova player on the floor because the Wildcats’ lineups were so multi-dimensional. As a result, Paschall had as much to do with Villanova running away from KU as anyone.

Slllooowww start

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) pulls up for a shot against Villanova guard Donte DiVincenzo (10) during the first half, Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) pulls up for a shot against Villanova guard Donte DiVincenzo (10) during the first half, Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. by Nick Krug

The antithesis of Villanova’s offense in the opening minutes of the national semifinal, the Jayhawks couldn’t settle in and get comfortable the way their opponents did.

Kansas took a short-lived lead at 2-0 on the opening possession. However, what followed set the stage for the Wildcats’ 16-point dismantling of KU in the Jayhawks’ second-largest defeat of the year (they lost by 18 at Oklahoma State to close the regular season).

Kansas missed 9 of its next 11 shots after Azubuike’s early score, and turned the ball over five times in the first 6:49 of play.

Before the Jayhawks could regroup offensively, their fifth giveaway led to — what else — a Villanova 3-pointer, and an 18-point deficit. All before KU made its fourth basket of the game.

Some promise for De Sousa’s future

Villanova guard Mikal Bridges (25) and Villanova forward Omari Spellman (14) get a rebound from Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa (22) during the second half, Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Villanova guard Mikal Bridges (25) and Villanova forward Omari Spellman (14) get a rebound from Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa (22) during the second half, Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. by Nick Krug

Not every stat that jumps off the box score in a loss has to come with negative connotations.

One of the seldom KU bright spots came in the activity of a freshman reserve who could be a massive part of coach Bill Self’s future plans.

Whether by coincidence or as a direct result of his presence, the Jayhawks finally settled down and got to see the ball go through the net every once in a while once backup big Silvio De Sousa checked into the game.

Making just his 20th appearance for Kansas after arriving mid-season as an early prep graduate, De Sousa relieved Azubuike and began hitting the offensive glass and providing Kansas with some life.

In just six first-half minutes, De Sousa grabbed five offensive rebounds and scored 7 points, going 2 for 3 from the floor and making 3 of 4 free throws.

De Sousa tipped in his own miss, as well as one by Graham, as the 6-foot-9 forward from Angola scored all 7 of KU’s second-chance points in the first half.

By the end of the night, De Sousa didn’t score another basket, but finished with seven points and seven boards (six offensive) in just 10 minutes of action.

De Sousa grew much more comfortable in the past several weeks after an anticipated adjustment period for his first semester at Kansas. His confidence and effectiveness will only grow in the months ahead.

When the big man’s sophomore season begins this coming November, he will have Final Four experience, instead of no college basketball points of reference whatsoever.

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Final Four reunion: KU assistant’s one-time protege starting for Villanova

Kansas basketball director of student-athlete development Fred Quartlebaum and Villanova forward Eric Paschall, both from Hobbs Ferry, N.Y., reunite at Final Four weekend, before the Jayhawks take on the Wildcats in the 2018 national semifinals.

Kansas basketball director of student-athlete development Fred Quartlebaum and Villanova forward Eric Paschall, both from Hobbs Ferry, N.Y., reunite at Final Four weekend, before the Jayhawks take on the Wildcats in the 2018 national semifinals. by Courtesy photo

San Antonio — If Villanova were slated to play any other team in the country on Saturday at the Final Four, Fred Quartlebaum would feel like one of the Wildcats’ biggest fans.

NCAA Tournament assignments and results from the past four rounds didn’t allow the Kansas basketball program’s director of student-athlete development to become an emotionally invested spectator of another elite team, though.

Quartlebaum, per usual, will be squarely in the Jayhawks’ corner for the national semifinal. The strange twist for the high-energy, always-smiling assistant will be actively — at least for a couple of hours — rooting against someone close to him.

Now in his fifth season on Bill Self’s staff at KU, Quartlebaum first met Villanova junior Eric Paschall when the starting forward was a middle-schooler.

“He is a tremendous kid, tremendous competitor,” the upbeat KU staffer known as “Coach Q,” shared at The Alamodome on Friday.

For a short time in his coaching profession, Quartlebaum didn’t work at the college level. He was involved with a leadership and mentoring program for students in the Westchester, N.Y., area when he first met Paschall.

A Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., native, just like KU’s assistant, a young Paschall attended a Quartlebaum camp upon recommendation.

“We’ve just always kept a close relationship since then,” Paschall revealed.

A few years later, the camper became a counselor for “Q.” By the time he graduated from high school, Paschall was off to start his college career at Fordham, the same program where Quartlebaum played from 1985 to 1989.

“I had an opportunity to see him grow up, and to see what type of young man he’s become and, gosh, he’s turned out to be a terrific basketball player, which no one was surprised about that,” Quartlebaum added of Paschall, now in his second season with the Wildcats and averaging 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds after transferring from Fordham.

Villanova forward Eric Paschall (4) gets the ball away from Seton Hall guard Khadeen Carrington (0) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, in Philadelphia, Pa. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

Villanova forward Eric Paschall (4) gets the ball away from Seton Hall guard Khadeen Carrington (0) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, in Philadelphia, Pa. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

The two reunited on Thursday at the Final Four Fan Fest. Quartlebaum greeted his Saturday foe with a “big hug” to let Paschall know how proud he is of what he has accomplished.

“I’m gonna love you today, but come Saturday we’re gonna go head-to-head,” the coach told his former pupil. “We both just laughed.”

The reunion near San Antonio’s River Walk for the duo who grew up in a N.Y. village along the Hudson River just so happened to come at college basketball’s biggest weekend.

“We knew it was a possibility,” Paschall said of he and Quartlebaum one day finding themselves as opponents, “just knowing that I was going to Villanova and he was at Kansas. But we never really talked about it. We always just have real conversations — like how we’re doing. I always ask about his two kids, Trey and Mayson. I remember coaching them in camp, so I always keep up with them.”

It’s been easy for Quartlebaum to track Paschall’s career just through social media, with so many in the Westchester area excitedly sharing the hometown hero’s highlights. The KU assistant has consumed even more footage during the past several days of preparation, too, since sending Paschall and his father, Juan, congratulatory texts following Villanova’s victory over Texas Tech.

“The cool thing about Eric is he’s extremely humble off the court, but such a fierce warrior, competitor that’s out there,” Quartlebaum said, describing his one-time protege as a versatile and integral part of the Villanova lineup. “He can shoot the ball, he can finish at the rim. He had an unbelievable dunk (in the Sweet 16, against West Virginia big Sagaba) Konate. So he can do a lot.”

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Paschall said he’s happy for Quartlebaum’s success.

“That’s my guy. Always had love for him. He’s a great dude,” the younger Dobbs Ferry representative at the Final Four said of the village’s elder statesman. “He’s always had my back and he always keeps in contact.”

Only one of the two from the small river village in New York will move on to Monday’s national championship game. It’s safe to say each will be rooting for the other from here on out — barring a March Madness rematch in 2019, that is.

“Eric has been a part of my basketball experience for quite a bit,” Quartlebaum said, “so what an honor to be here with him and celebrate this atmosphere at the Final Four.”

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Jay Wright, Bill Self weigh in on idea of KU-Villanova as de facto championship game

Villanova head coach Jay Wright gestures from the sideline during the first half of an NCAA men's college basketball tournament regional final against Texas Tech, Sunday, March 25, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Villanova head coach Jay Wright gestures from the sideline during the first half of an NCAA men's college basketball tournament regional final against Texas Tech, Sunday, March 25, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

San Antonio — When No. 1 and No. 2 seeds began dropping out of the South and West regionals before the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, it became clear The Madness was intent on devouring the left side of the bracket.

So by the time a team emerged from each region as a Final Four participant, one national semifinal quickly became characterized as the undercard.

With the first national semifinal Saturday night at The Alamodome placing No. 3 seed Michigan against March darling and No. 11 seed Loyola (5:09 p.m., TBS), some have gone as far as to label the matchup on the opposite side of the bracket between No. 1 Villanova and No. 1 Kansas as the de facto national championship game.

In his 17th season at Villanova, head coach Jay Wright trusts his players won’t buy into that line of thinking. Whichever team gets out of KU-Villanova alive will have to win one more time to secure the national title.

“The good thing is I think our guys have a good understanding and respect for everybody in this tournament,” Wright said earlier this week, “so I don't think they would even think that this is the national championship game. Our guys wouldn't think that way.”

The NCAA could avoid having one semifinal appear more stacked than another by changing its Final Four format and re-seeding the teams for the season’s ultimate weekend. This year, for example, Villanova, as the top remaining No. 1 seed, would take on No. 11 Loyola in one game, while No. 1 KU and No. 3 Michigan would play in the other.

Kansas coach Bill Self, asked for his thoughts on the re-seeding debate, replied: “Well, since they are not going to, I'm going to say: No, I love it exactly the way it is.”

The coach then conceded it would be “great” to re-seed for the national semifinals.

Kansas head coach Bill Self listens to a question during a press conference on Saturday, March 24, 2018 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.

Kansas head coach Bill Self listens to a question during a press conference on Saturday, March 24, 2018 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. by Nick Krug

“I think whoever is saying that, obviously is probably getting a little bit ahead of themselves,” Self said of KU and Villanova being a two-days early title game. “It looks like it's maybe the marquee game of Saturday, just because it's one versus one, but trust me, the other game is just as marquee as this one.”

Of course, nationally renowned coaches ultimately don’t care how games are being categorized or what modifications talking heads are debating. Wright mostly is concerned with devising a game plan that will push Villanova (34-4) past Kansas (31-7) and into the actual national championship game.

“They are as explosive an offensive team, I think, as we've played all year in terms of always having the ability to be a great team and using their big men,” Wright said. “And now they've probably got, in addition to their bigs, the best perimeter team they've ever had.”

Wright said he and his staff, through the years, have always watched Self’s teams to pick up different ideas on how to best use their big men.

“And now he's still got those big guys that are really effective, but the guards are amazing,” Wright said. “So it's going to be a very difficult defensive matchup for us.”

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