The Day After: Elite Eight marks the end of the road
Just like that, another wildly successful Kansas basketball season ended in disappointment for the players and fans in Louisville and around the world on Saturday night.
Villanova 64, Kansas 59.
In a game that featured two veteran teams that could score in such a wide variety of ways, the low-scoring nature of this one showed just how much of a battle it was and how things can get wacky when a trip to the Final Four is on the line.
From the sound of things, it was Villanova’s goal to make it that way and, boy, did the Wildcats succeed.
“We wanted to make it a street fight, make it an ugly game,” said Nova guard Ryan Arcidiacono. "I think we did that.”
There’s no question. And it cost a Kansas team that was on one heck of a roll and appeared to be a real contender to win a national title a great shot at bringing some more meaningful hardware back to Lawrence.
The Twitter world certainly did not seem to want to hear it, but I think reasonable people can agree that Kansas lost to a damn good team on Saturday night at KFC Yum! Center. Were there bad calls? Sure. Did the Jayhawks miss shots they normally might have — perhaps even would have — made? You bet. But it’s not as if things went perfectly for Villanova either. And the Wildcats deserve credit for finding a way to make a couple more plays in a game that wound up being exactly what Nova coach Jay Wright predicted it would be a day earlier — a heavyweight battle. The Kansas team we saw in this one was not the same free and loose team that won 17 straight heading into it. And they were still almost good enough to beat a very talented, tough and experienced team. And, oh by the way, Wright is one heck of a coach. Possibly the most underrated in college basketball. So as much as I’m sure this loss stings for KU fans like all the other NCAA Tournament losses before it, that should not be the way this team and this season are remembered. 33-5 and one step shy of another Final Four. That’s a very good year any way you slice it.
Three reasons to smile
1 – The Devonte’ Graham bounce-back effort from a sub-par Sweet 16 game was impressive and crucial to keeping Kansas in the game. The sophomore guard who struggled through illness two days earlier hit 5 of 9 three-pointers and led the Jayhawks with 17 points. So many of his triples were absolutely critical and kept Kansas in the game. It may not mean a lot today, but just the thought of this guy being around — and continuing to improve at a rapid rate — for two more seasons should bring smiles to KU fans’ somber faces.
2 – I know people will want to talk about how many open three-pointers he missed, but I think Wayne Selden deserves a ton of credit for finding a way to get 16 points on a night he didn’t have it. Selden never stopped attacking, kept shooting and gave all he had to the effort on a night when it would have been very easy to pout about things not going well for him personally. In a related area, Selden also handled the postgame media barrage admirably. He obviously was not thrilled, but he did not project that. In fact, none of the players did. And that says a lot about their growth and maturity.
3 – Reeling after a rough first half, KU came out of the locker room with a purpose and completely erased a seven-point deficit — and actually built a couple of five-point leads — in the first nine minutes of the second half. The way Nova was playing, it looked as if it would take more of a slow and steady effort to chip into that lead. But Kansas turned up its defense — Nova shot just 40 percent from the floor for the game — and found a way to get some easy points on offense to momentarily claim control of the game. It didn’t last, of course, but that response to the halftime adjustments was impressive.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Villanova’s ability to grab 13 offensive rebounds absolutely killed Kansas. In a game as low-scoring and tightly contested as this one was, giving up any free possessions can be devastating. And it was for Kansas. On at least a couple of occasions late, the Wildcats were able to pad their lead from two to four because of offensive rebounds, the biggest coming on a wild rebound and put-back of a missed three-pointer by Mikal Bridges that put Nova up 56-52 with 4:28 to play.
2 – Villanova deserves a ton of the credit for it, but there’s no two ways about it, Perry Ellis’ final game as a Jayhawk was a dud. The senior forward, who finished eighth all-time on KU’s scoring list, scored just four points and made just one basket, the unexpected and tough-to-swallow end to one of the best scoring stretches in recent KU memory. Ellis entered the game having scored 20 or more points in seven of his last eight games, but, on this night, he struggled to get the four points he got and KU did not get enough from those around him to save the season.
3 – One shot, one miss, one assist, three fouls, two turnovers and a steal. That, in all its glory, is all Kansas got from a three-man bench that played just 18 minutes combined and looked incapable of impacting the game on either end of the floor. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk missed his only shot of the night, a three from the corner that he aimed instead of shot and Jamari Traylor and Carlton Bragg could not handle Nova’s physical play. In a sense, Kansas getting nothing from its bench in the final game of the season was a fitting end because this team rode its starting five so heavily for most of the year.
One for the road
KU’s Elite Eight loss to Villanova in Louisville...
• Dropped Kansas coach Bill Self to 2-6 all-time in Elite Eight games, his losses at Kansas coming to Georgia Tech, UCLA, VCU and now Villanova.
• Snapped a 17-game winning streak which was the nation's longest active winning streak. That winning streak was the longest of the season and the longest since 2010-11, when Kansas opened the season 18-0.
• Made Kansas 14-7 all-time in Elite Eight games.
• Evened the series against Villanova is tied 3-3.
• Bumped Kansas to 100-44 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
Now it’s time to take inventory, see who stays, who leaves, which top-tier recruits will pick Kansas and what the Jayhawks will do to retool a team that returns a lot of experience and talent but also will need to fill a few key spots to make another run next season. Stay tuned...
— See what people were saying about KU's Elite Eight loss during KUsports.com's live coverage
More news and notes from KU’s Elite Eight loss to Villanova
- Frustrating finish: Jayhawks baffled by Villanova
- Keegan: Brutal first-half stretch doomed KU
- Villanova game-planned to stop Ellis
- Seniors likely not only players KU will lose
- Graham addresses controversial fifth foul
- Self: Elite Eight loss hard for everybody
- Prep bigs Maker and Ayton to play for World Team
- Villanova ends KU’s season, reaches Final Four
- Keegan Ratings: Graham’s big night not enough vs. Villanova