Michigan Wolverines

Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova storm past Michigan for national title

Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova storm past Michigan for national title

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SAN ANTONIO -- They chanted his name from the cheap seats: "Di-Vin-cen-zo, Di-Vin-cen-zo." By the time Donte DiVincenzo was done doing his damage, Villanova had another title and college basketball had its newest star.

The redhead kid with the nickname Big Ragu came off the bench to score 31 points Monday and lift `Nova to another blowout tournament victory -- this time 79-62 over Michigan for its second title in three seasons.

The sophomore guard had 12 points and an assist during a first-half run to help the Wildcats (36-4) pull ahead, then scored nine straight for Villanova midway through the second to put the game away. He capped it with a 3-pointer from a step behind the arc that he celebrated with a knowing wink over to TV announcers Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery on the sideline.

Villanova won all six games by double digits over this tournament run, joining Michigan State (2000), Duke (2001) and North Carolina (2009) in that rare air.

"I thought we played our best game in the championship game," coach Jay Wright said.

The last team to win its two Final Four games by 16 or more: UCLA in 1968. During the dynasty.

One key question: Does Wright's team belong on the list of the best of all-time?

Maybe so, considering the way Villanova dismantled everyone in front of it in a tournament that was dripping with upsets, underdogs and at least the appearance of parity.

Maybe so, considering the Wildcats won in seemingly every way imaginable. This victory came two nights after they set a Final Four record with 18 3-pointers, and one week after they relied more on defense in a win over Texas Tech in the Elite Eight.

That debate's for later.

DiVincenzo squashed any questions about this game with a 10-for-15 shooting night -- 5 for 7 from 3 --that was really better than that, making him an easy winner for most outstanding player in the Final Four.

With Michigan refusing to go away early in the second half, he opened his game-sealing run with an around-the-back dribble to get to the hoop and get fouled. On the other end, he delivered a two-handed rejection of Michigan's Charles Matthews -- his second block of the game -- when Matthews tried to bring it into the paint.

"Blocked shots, definitely," DiVincenzo said when asked if he enjoys 3s or rejections more. "I pride myself on defense and just bringing energy to the team."

The 3 that sealed it came from a big step behind the arc and gave Villanova a 62-44 lead with a bit less than 8 minutes left.

About the only drama left was whether DiVincenzo could unwrap himself from his teammates' mob hug to toss the ball underhanded toward the scoreboard after the buzzer. He succeeded there, too.

Mikal Bridges finished with 19 in what could be his final audition for the NBA. Player of the Year Jalen Brunson was celebrating despite an off night -- nine points and two rebounds. His struggles barely mattered.

What a couple months it's been for Philly. First the Eagles. Now this. The Super Bowl, though, was a classic. This one was only beautiful to one team.

Michigan (33-8) came out playing tough-nosed defense it relied on over a 14-game winning streak that got the Wolverines to their second final in six years.

Moe Wagner scored 11 early points to continue his great play in the Final Four. Villanova started 1 for 9 from 3-point range. And yet, after DiVincenzo banged down a 3 from a step behind the arc for Villanova's second of the night, coach John Beilein looked at the scoreboard and saw his team behind, 23-21.

"The way DiVincenzo shot the ball, it was just incredible for us to try to win that game with the roll he went on," Beilein said.

If his first 3 wasn't demoralizing enough, DiVincenzo made another, then took a bounce pass from Brunson for a dunk, then paid it forward with an assist to Omari Spellman. It was part of a 23-7 run that gave the Wildcats a nine-point lead at halftime; they never looked back.

For the record, DiVincenzo has no problem starting games on the bench.

He's been willing to do whatever's needed since he arrived in 2015. His season cut short because of a knee injury, he was healthy enough to run the scout squad for Villanova during its first title run. Some on the team said he did Oklahoma star Buddy Hield better than Hield.

But maybe a more apt comparison is to ... Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?

DiVincenzo joins them in the rare club of players to crack 30 points while also shooting better than 66 percent from the floor in a Final Four game.

This one truly hurts for Penn State

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This one truly hurts for Penn State

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- John Beilein has always coveted the type of player with near-limitless energy reserve who can provide a scoring spark off the bench.

Michigan's coach has found his man this year.

Duncan Robinson supported No. 17 Michigan's starters with 19 points and helped the Wolverines beat Penn State 72-63 on Wednesday night.

"I've loved always having this, whether I was at Richmond, West Virginia, Canisius, the guy that can come off the bench with no conscience," Beilein said. "It's very hard to sit there for 10 minutes and then just go in and shoot. And he can do that."

Moritz Wagner added 18 and Jordan Poole had 13 for the Wolverines (23-7, 12-5 Big Ten) who won their fourth straight.

It got easier for the Wolverines just four minutes in when star Penn State forward Mike Watkins crumpled under Penn State's basket with an apparent right leg injury.

"That certainly was a factor in the game as well," Beilein said.

Tony Carr scored 21 points and Lamar Stevens added 19 for the Nittany Lions (19-11, 9-8) who trailed for all but about four minutes.

Michigan took control with a 25-12 run midway through the first and Robinson made Michigan's fifth of 10 3-pointers to put the Wolverines up by 13, their biggest lead of the game, with 3:52 left in the opening half. Back-to-back jumpers from Stevens cut Michigan's halftime lead to 34-26.

The Nittany Lions opened the second with a 13-4 run and took a 39-38 lead when Carr rolled a floater off his fingertips, drew a foul and made the free throw with 16:12 left.

"At halftime, we knew we didn't play well," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "We were dealing with some adversity and I thought our guys competed and played hard, to come out and take the lead."

But the Wolverines went ahead for good on Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman's 3-pointer with 10:19 left. Michigan players combined to go 9-for-10 from the free throw line in the final minute to close out the game.

Watkins hurt
Watkins appeared to be in a good amount of discomfort as he was helped off the court.

Afterward, the forward spent a few minutes on a courtside exercise bike before returning to the bench with 9:28 to play. He lobbied Chambers to let him re-enter the game, but was clearly hobbled before Chambers pulled him out for good moments later.

Visibly upset, Watkins covered his face with a towel then entered the locker room before the half ended.

Chambers said he didn't have an update on Watkins other than the team would wait for test results on his right leg to come back later this week.

It was the second straight game -- and second straight loss -- where Watkins' presence was sorely missed. He found himself in early foul trouble against Purdue and played just nine minutes in Penn State's 76-73 loss.

"It's tough. They're a team that shoots a bunch of 3s. We weren't surprised that they shot the ball well."

Defending the 3
The Wolverines entered the game having made 264 3-pointers, good for second in the conference. They dropped 10 more on the Nittany Lions including a pair of back-to-back shots from Wagner that broke up Penn State's early second-half run.

They were big considering Beilein felt like his squad was squandering most of its chances early in the second.

"They just happened," Beilein said. "He got open, luckily, and he made them both and all of a sudden it's a 1-point game and we're still playing."

Robinson was 3-for-6 and hit the final 3-pointer to give the Wolverines' a 9-point lead with 1:28 left. Wagner was 4-for-5 from 3-point range while Poole added a pair.

"When you give up 10 3s to Michigan, It's going to be a tough outing for sure," Chambers said.

The big picture
Michigan: The Wolverines are guaranteed to be seeded no worse than fifth in the Big Ten tournament with the win. They'll have a chance to improve that as the teams above them in the standings No. 9 Purdue and Nebraska still have games remaining.

Penn State: With a 3-point loss to Purdue in their last game, the Nittany Lions badly needed this one for their NCAA tournament resume. Watkins will be nearly impossible for Penn State to replace if it has to move on without him. The 6-foot-9 forward is third in the country shooting 69.2 percent from the field. He has 13 double-doubles on the season and leads the team with 68 blocks and 258 rebounds. The players who would likely replace his minutes --Julian Moore and Satchel Pierce -- have averaged just 10 and eight minutes per game respectively.

Up next
Michigan visits Maryland on Saturday.

Penn State travels to Nebraska on Sunday.

Penn State's leading defense depends on swarming to ball

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Penn State's leading defense depends on swarming to ball

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — James Franklin's whistle is the last one Penn State players hear at practice, and sometimes the coach will hesitate before he blows plays dead.

He's waiting for a satisfactory number of white helmets to charge the ball carrier. It doesn't usually take long for him to see what he wants — eight, maybe nine defenders all converging on the football.

"You can take an average defense and be a good defense just by doing that one thing," Franklin said. "I think what we've been able to do is take a good defense and take it to that next category, whatever you call it, by doing a great job of running to the football."

It's helped cue a run in which the No. 2 Nittany Lions have allowed an FBS-low 9 points per game. They'll look to continue the trend against No. 19 Michigan on Saturday. They might need to in order to keep their national championship hopes alive, as the Wolverines will bring the nation's top overall defense to Happy Valley for Saturday's primetime showdown at Beaver Stadium.

The Wolverines are allowing just 223 yards per game and, like the Nittany Lions, are swarming to make tackles.

"It's not something you think about, it's just something that happens," Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer said. "You don't really see yourself not running to the football because it's so natural."

And because it's been stressed repeatedly over Franklin's three and a half seasons in charge.

In addition to his late whistles, Franklin will regularly step away from interviews with local reporters to scream at his players to run off the practice field. Further, he can point out statistics -- such as his team's plus-12 turnover differential — supporting his claim that collective hustle makes a difference.

Without it, Franklin knows the 17 takeaways his team has this year could be much closer to the nine it had at this point last season.

"Think about how many times last year the ball was on the ground as a fumble and we didn't come up with it," Franklin said. "This year we're coming up with those fumbles because we got more people around the ball."

Franklin's philosophy is echoed by his defensive coordinator Brent Pry, who's based his schemes on one principle.

"We're a staff that believes in team speed," Pry said. "It's noticeable right now, especially in the back seven. I think we're running really well."

Pry has confidence that Penn State's athletic group of linebackers can roam sideline to sideline. Starters Jason Cabinda, Manny Bowen and Farmer — a converted safety — have combined to help on 49 tackles. On the back end, safeties Marcus Allen and Troy Apke and corners Grant Haley and Christian Campbell have chipped in 34 helpers.

His defense's ability to pursue and gang tackle gives Pry even more confidence to call blitzes. It's made Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh wary, too. Harbaugh said Monday he wasn't yet sure of the best way to attack the Penn State's defense.

"Don't see them giving up a lot of big plays in the running game or the passing game, which means they're really sound," Harbaugh said. "You can already see really good players in the front seven and in the secondary. They get to the ball, they close up gaps and they're rarely out of position."

Franklin might as well have repeated Harbaugh's concern Tuesday. Penn State's coach worked with Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown at Maryland and sees the same qualities that make his own unit so effective.

"The way they play defensive football, we're going to have some challenges," Franklin said. "You're going to be watching two of the best defensive coordinators in college football. Which probably doesn't get any more Big Ten than that, defensive football."