Again freshman guard Frank Mason was asked to step up in a big spot. With a picture-perfect spin move through the lane, he answered, giving second-ranked Kansas its first lead of the second half with :35 seconds on the clock. But Villanova did one better, getting its only three of the night from Ryan Arcidiacono in the final seconds to upset the Jayhawks in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals Friday night, 63-59.
In the first meeting between the two schools since the 2008 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, Kansas (5-1) and Villanova (6-0) put on a gutsy show. After enduring a grind-it-out style game to defeat Wake Forest the day before, KU looked to do it again on Friday as neither team shot above 40 percent on the night.
Yet, when crunch time arrived both teams rose to the challenge. Trailing by its largest deficit of the night, 48-36 with 12:44 to play, Kansas appeared to buckle down. Mason, who went scoreless in the first half, put the team on his young back to finish the night with a team-high 12 points. He missed only once in the second half, going 5-for-6, including his layup through the lane in the final minute. Mason’s crucial bucket gave Kansas the 59-58 lead, the team’s first lead since holding a 19-17 edge in the first half.
Finally in position to win, the Jayhawks were within 11 seconds of closing it out before sophomore guard Ryan Arcidiacono drilled the biggest shot of the night. After missing his first five three-point attempts on the evening, he shot over sophomore forward Perry Ellis’ outstretched arm to spoil the Jayhawks’ comeback. Two more free throws closed it out, handing Kansas its first loss of the season.
Ellis followed Mason on KU’s scoring leaderboard with 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting. Freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid contributed 10 points apiece. Embiid and Ellis pulled down just five and four rebounds, respectively, to lead KU’s efforts on the boards. For the first time this season, KU was outdone in the rebounding column, 43-34.
As a unit, Villanova fired up 25 three-pointers, landing nine of them. That perimeter shooting proved to be the biggest difference as KU made a season-low two shots from behind the arc, offsetting the Jayhawks’ 36-21 advantage in the paint.
Junior guard Darrun Hilliard and redshirt sophomore Dylan Ennis drove the daggers into KU’s attack plan all night. The duo put up a game-high 14 points apiece, combining for six of the Wildcats’ nine threes.
A flashy yet effortless up-and-under layup from Embiid resulted in an and-one opportunity as the Jayhawks got off to a quick start. By the time Hilliard hit Villanova’s first shot of the game – a three-pointer at the 13:14 mark – Kansas had built an 11-2 lead.
Villanova began the battle it would ultimately win as Hilliard’s second three cut KU’s lead to three. From the first media timeout to the second, Kansas saw its 11-2 spread dwindle to a slight 14-11 advantage. Sloppy basketball ensued as missed layups and turnovers allowed Villanova to cut further into the lead, following Hilliard’s third three in a five-minute span. Neither team was hitting over 32 percent as the eight-minute mark passed and Black, KU’s leading scorer through that point, was whistled for his third foul of the game. A step-back jumper from the baseline by Wiggins restored order momentarily and KU stayed in front, 18-15.
It was short lived after another Kansas turnover was converted into a dunk on the other end of the floor. Ennis took advantage once more when the Wildcats brought down back-to-back offensive rebounds for a layup to tie the game for the first time since tip with five minutes remaining in the half, 19-19. Free throws gave Villanova its first lead, which it continued to build using a game-changing 12-0 run.
Moments later, a technical foul issued on Kansas head coach Bill Self saw the frustration point hit its boiling point after one of two made free throws following the call pushed Villanova’s lead to 10, 29-19. The seven-minute drought to start the first half Villanova was duplicated by Kansas to end it as KU went to the locker room with its worst halftime deficit of the season, 29-22.
Embiid broke the Kansas scoring drought 25 seconds into the second half with a nice move to the bucket, but was immediately charged with back-to-back fouls to put him on the bench with four. The second-half start didn’t get any better as a KU turnover ended with a drive to the basket by JayVaughan Pinkston, returning the Wildcats’ lead to double-digits, forcing a Kansas timeout down, 36-26.
Self’s timing was perfect as his Jayhawks broke out of the pause for an 8-0 run sparked by four points from Ellis and a hustle play from freshman guard Brannen Greene. His quick hands started a Villanova turnover, which he beat back down the floor for a layup that was ruled good via goal tending. A put-back under the basket for Ellis saw Kansas slice its deficit to a mere two points, 36-34.
Relentless, Villanova always had an answer – primarily of the three-point variety. Ennis led the way hitting two of the Wildcats’ three treys as Villanova stepped on the gas. After clawing its way back to a two-point deficit, KU was hit with a 12-2 run to trail by its largest margin of the game, 48-36 .
went right back to work. Powered by three-straight scores from Black, Mason and Embiid, the Jayhawks fought its way back to within single digits. Mason’s clutch three with 8:44 to play kept the Jayhawks on the back of the Wildcats. For the next five minutes, Kansas kept pushing, putting together a 10-0 run on the backs of freshmen trio Wiggins, Embiid and Mason – including his late heroics through the lane.
Armed with the 59-58 lead, Kansas looked as if the improbable comeback had been completed until Arcidiacono’s three pulled off the upset.
Kansas will play its final game in the Bahamas on Saturday when the Jayhawks tip-off against UTEP at 6 p.m. KU will then go on the road to Colorado (Dec. 7) and Florida (Dec. 10).