Villanova to seventh Final Four, beats Houston 50-44 in South regional final

Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN ANTONIO – Jermaine Samuels had 16 points and 10 rebounds as Villanova advanced to its third Final Four in the last six NCAA Tournaments with a grind-it-out 50-44 victory over Houston in the South Region final Saturday.

Caleb Daniels added 14 points for the Wildcats (30-7), and fifth-year senior Collin Gillespie’s only made field goal was a clutch shot late, even though they led throughout.

With both teams willing to limit possessions, the first spot for this year’s Final Four in New Orleans was settled in a game that was ugly to watch with all the missed shots.

Villanova shot 28.8% from the field (15 of 52). The Cougars were only slightly better at 29.8% (17 of 57), missing their last five shots and 10 of 11 overall, and they made only one of their of 20 attempted 3-pointers in their lowest-scoring NCAA tourney game ever.

The Wildcats and coach Jay Wright won’t complain as he seeks to add a third national title to the ones he won in 2016 and 2018. Villanova will play either Kansas, the only No. 1 seed remaining, or 10th-seeded Miami next Saturday as it seeks its fourth championship overall.

Taze Moore had 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Cougars (32-6), who were denied making consecutive Final Four appearances for the first time since 1982-84 during the Phil Slama Jama era. The starting five was completely changed from last season, including Moore and two other senior newcomers.

After Villanova missed three shots on the same possession – and was still without any second-chance points in the game – Moore got the long rebound on the break. After initially slowing things down, Moore scored on a drive against Gillespie, getting Houston within 42-40 with 5:25 left.

It was the closest the Cougars had been in the game at AT&T Center, only about 200 miles from their campus, and the crowd was in a frenzy when Wright called timeout. Houston never got a chance to take the lead.

Gillespie, who played in the national championship game for the Wildcats in 2018, was 1-of-6 shooting. But his only field goal came on the possession after the timeout when he stepped inside the 3-point line and hit a jumper with 5:02 left.

There was a nearly two-minute scoring drought before Justin Moore made two free throws – the Wildcats were a perfect 15-of-15 from the line. A foul by J’Wan Roberts bailed them out with the shot clock about to run out. Those were Villanova’s first and only second-chance points.

Villanova had scored the first five points of the game, including a 3-pointer by Samuels on the first shot.

Samuels was also on that 2018 title team as a freshman with Gillespie, but the 6-foot-7 forward logged only one minute total while making late-game appearances in those two Final Four games.

As a senior, Samuels goes into the Final Four after being named MVP of the South Region. He is averaging 17.5 points a game in this NCAA tourney – so far.

INJURY

Justin Moore suffered a lower leg injury in the final minute of the game and was on crutches during the Wildcats’ postgame celebration. Moore was dribbling against a defender, and looked like he slipped and fell, then went back down after trying to get up.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: After never trailing in their Sweet 16 win over top-seeded Arizona, Houston never led against ‘Nova. … The Cougars had advanced to the Final Four all previous six times they had played in a regional final: 1967, 1968, 1982, 1983, 1984 and 2021. … Fifth-year forward Fabian White Jr., who had started only a handful of games before this season, played in his school-record 148th game and was part of a record 120 victories.

Villanova: This is the fourth time in a row that Villanova won when getting to a regional final and advanced to the Final Four, following 2009, 2016 and 2018. The Wildcats are 20-3 in NCAA tourney games since 2016. … They are 9-0 in March, their largest winning streak this season, and have won 14 of 15 overall since the first week of February.

UP NEXT

Villanova will play against the Midwest Region champion in the national semis. Kansas and Miami play Sunday in Chicago.