Jayhawks’ title hopes end with 64-59 loss to Villanova

No. 1 seed Kansas was unable to stop No. 2 seed Villanova in the battle for a spot in the Final Four.

Jamie Rhodes/Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kansas was again left to ponder what might have been in the NCAA Tournament, and this defeat was especially painful because everything that worked so well the past two months fell apart for the Jayhawks.

They earned the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed and brought a 17-game winning streak into Saturday night’s South Regional final against No. 2 seed Villanova. That’s all over now after a season-ending 64-59 loss in which Kansas seemed uncomfortable much of the game, even when things appeared to be coming together.

Villanova deserves credit for disrupting that flow with a zone defense that spread Kansas farther than it wanted. The Jayhawks became desperate at times, and the results weren’t pretty. Then again, the Wildcats wanted it to be ugly.

Just ask Kansas senior forward Perry Ellis, who wasn’t a factor all night.

"I feel like they did a great job of just trying to swarm me at times," said Ellis, who had a season-low four points and five rebounds in 34 minutes of his final college game. "Just somebody always there."

Kansas (33-5) shot 46 percent and edged Villanova 32-28 on the boards. But the Jayhawks couldn’t make the pass or shot when needed, and the Wildcats just seemed to come up with the key plays.

Kris Jenkins made two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining and Jalen Brunson added two more with 3.5 seconds left as Villanova (33-5) reached the Final Four.

Devonte’ Graham had 17 points, and Frank Mason III and Wayne Selden Jr. added 16 each for Kansas.

Mason made it interesting, scoring five points as the Jayhawks drew to 60-59 with 15 seconds left. But Villanova was in the middle of a late-game march to the free-throw line that didn’t fail. The Wildcats made 18 of 19 at the line and all eight in the final 33 seconds.

"I think the basket shrunk a little bit for us, and certainly, they probably got some confidence the way they were defending us," Kansas coach Bill Self said about Villanova. "But it came down to them making free throws and it came down to a couple of loose balls, and that was the difference in the outcome."

The Wildcats were also given the ball with 34 seconds left when officials determined that Graham undercut Josh Hart on a scramble after Graham’s turnover. Graham fouled out at that point, and Mason’s foul led to the first of Ryan Arcidiacono’s four straight foul shots.

The game ended on a turnover, as Selden was picked off by Hart. It was that way all night as Ellis and the other Jayhawks rarely found a rhythm.

"The zone really messed with us," Graham said. "We weren’t getting it in the middle so he really didn’t get enough touches. I don’t know, they played good defense."

Villanova stuck with the strategy all night and led 32-25 at halftime.

The Wildcats trailed 7-4 as Kansas got baskets inside before Villanova regrouped to score six straight points and briefly led 10-7. Kansas then answered with a 9-2 run for a 16-12 edge that marked its last lead of the half.

Villanova’s zone defense had a lot to do with that, keeping Kansas from taking control in the paint and holding Ellis scoreless in the first half. Kansas eventually went scoreless for nearly seven minutes and Villanova took advantage with a 13-0 run for a 25-16 lead that had the Jayhawks out of sorts.

Graham’s two 3-pointers helped bring Kansas to 29-25, but Jenkins’ 3-pointer right before halftime reclaimed the momentum for the Wildcats.

Kansas seemed to have control at 45-40 before Villanova mounted the final comeback with clutch plays when it needed them. The Wildcats are in the Final Four as a result, while the Jayhawks are going home.

"I probably wanted it as bad for this group as any group I’ve ever coached, just because I know how hard they tried," Self said. "We only had one senior, but the reality is we’re not going to have our entire group back."

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

Villanova: The Wildcats forced 16 turnovers and scored 13 points off them. … The win tied a school record for victories in a season.

Kansas: The Jayhawks’ 16 turnovers were four above their season average.