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.

Shead scores 21 points, Houston knocks out 1-seed Arizona

C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images
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SAN ANTONIO – Houston coach Kelvin Sampson gritted his teeth and raised his arms before emphatically pounding his right fist into his left hand 11 times while celebrating with ecstatic Cougars fans who were not too far from home.

Another No. 1 seed is out, and Houston is one win way from playing in its second straight Final Four after leading throughout in a 72-60 victory over Arizona in an NCAA South Regional semifinal game Thursday night.

“I knew we were going to make them uncomfortable, that’s what we do,” Sampson said. “Our team, we’re a tough bunch. … They’re not afraid of anybody.”

Jamal Shead, a 19-year-old second-year guard, scored a career-high 21 points and experienced guard Kyler Edwards had 19 points with five 3-pointers. They both played 38 minutes after Taze Moore got in early foul trouble.

“We always feel like we’re the toughest team out there and we play like that …. we can’t be scared of anybody,” Shead said. “The energy was just electric. It was awesome to have that type of crowd here.”

Consecutive layups by Dalen Terry got Arizona within 64-58 with just over two minutes left. But Edwards, the transfer from Texas Tech who played in the 2019 national championship game for the Red Raiders, settled things for Houston with a 3 from the right wing.

The No. 5 seed Cougars (32-5) play second-seeded Villanova in the South Region final on Saturday in San Antonio, about 200 miles from the Houston campus.

Terry had 17 points for Arizona (33-4), while Pac-12 player of the year Bennedict Mathurin had 15 and Christian Koloko 10.

“It was a tough game. There’s a lot of things we could have done better to win the game,” Mathurin said. “I don’t have a lot to say.”

The American Athletic Conference champion Cougars became the second former Southwest Conference team to knock a No. 1 seed out of this NCAA Tournament in a matter of hours. Top overall seed Gonzaga lost 74-68 to Arkansas, which went to the SEC in 1991, five years before the SWC’s final season.

These Cougars are much different than the ones Sampson took the the Final Four last year – their first since going three times in a row during the Phi Slama Jama era from 1982-84.

Houston lost four starters from last season and then lost Marcus Sasser, the lone returner and leading scorer who broke his left foot before Christmas. Sophomore guard Tramon Mark had a season-ending shoulder injury before that.

Arizona had one of the least-experienced teams in Division I this season; according to KenPom.com, the Wildcats average 0.63 years of experienced, ranked 355th out of 358 teams. But they won 33 games, and two of their losses were on the road during the regular season against top-20 teams.

Those 33 wins left Tommy Lloyd one win shy of the most in NCAA history for a first-year coach. He took over the Wildcats after 21 seasons as an assistant coach for Mark Few at Gonzaga.

“I think we really built some foundational pieces this year that are really going to serve us well moving forward. Extremely proud of the guys. Extremely proud of the coaching staff,” Lloyd said. “We ran into a really good team tonight that was just a little bit too much for us.

Houston stretched its lead to 10 points three different times before halftime.

The Wildcats missed seven of their first eight shots, and trailed by double digits for the first time after Houston scored seven points in a 57-second span for a 14-4 lead. That quick spurt included Shead getting a rebound to start a fastbreak that ended with his pass to Ramon Walker Jr. in the left corner for an open 3, and a driving layup by Edwards after a turnover.

Moore, a graduate transfer, had a career-high 21 points in Houston’s second-round win over Illinois, but his early 3 to make it 5-0 Houston in the first two minutes was all he’d score against the Wildcats. He committed his third personal foul with 9:22 left and played only 17 minutes overall.

“The guy that’s been really good for us, Taze Moore, was a non-factor. … Tonight, you know, he was in the witness protection program. I couldn’t find him. Nowhere,” Sampson said. “We put him in there, we had to take him right back out.”

EXTRA SECOND

Arizona was within 34-28 at halftime when Koloko made both free throws after a whistle and a replay review when 0.6 seconds were put back on the clock. Sampson and the Cougars thought the half was over, and Mathurin thought he had been fouled going for the rebound on Koloko’s miss as the buzzer sounded, but the refs ruled a foul on Koloko’s shot after looking at the replay.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona: The Wildcats needed overtime to beat TCU in the second round, but they got off to the slow start shooting and never recovered in the Sweet 16 game. They shot 33% (18 of 54) and had 14 turnovers that Houston turned into 24 points.

Houston: The Cougars have been to six regional finals in the past. They won each time to advance to the Final Four. … When Arizona was down only two early in the second half, Edwards hit a 3-pointer. Terry hit a 3 a few minutes later to get the Wildcats within a bucket again, but Shead responded with another from long range.

UP NEXT

Houston and Villanova haven’t played since the Cougars’ 79-49 win on November 23, 1991. The two teams have played twice in the NCAA Tournament – Houston won in 1983 and Villanova won in the 1981 tourney.

Moore scores 21, Houston hammers Illinois to make Sweet 16

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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PITTSBURGH — Once back in their locker room, Houston’s players emptied their water bottles on coach Kelvin Sampson, who peeled off his shirt for the celebratory dousing.

A sweet soaking indeed.

Taze Moore scored 21 points and Jamal Shead added 18 as the Cougars, a Final Four team last season, advanced in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament with a 68-53 win over Illinois, ousted in the opening weekend for the second straight year.

The fifth-seeded Cougars (31-5) are making another serious run at a national title despite losing their two best players to season-ending injuries. Now, with a trio of transfers and a defense with some serious teeth, they’re headed home to Texas for the next round – in San Antonio, against either Arizona or TCU.

“It’s our heart,” Shead said when asked about this team’s toughness. “We don’t want to lose. We want to win for each other. We love each other so much, these guys are like my brothers, you know, it goes way beyond basketball.

“We want to keep it going as long as we possibly can.”

Kyler Edwards added 15 points for Houston, a team often overlooked but making major noise again this March.

With Houston’s fans chanting “Sweet 16, Sweet 16” in the closing seconds, Edwards dropped one last 3-pointer from the corner and seconds later lifted Moore, another of Houston’s transfers, off the floor.

The Cougars faced major adversity in December when guards Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark, two of the holdovers from last year’s talented squad, were lost to injuries. But instead of folding, Houston’s players formed an even tighter bond.

“We got a brand-new bunch,” Sampson said, dried off and fully dressed. “But the culture never changes. Because they’re great kids and they’re high-character kids, they buy in. It’s never about them. Our program is always about we and us, and that’s what happens when you have great kids.”

For Illinois, it’s another year of deep disappointment. The fourth-seeded Fighting Illini (23-10) were determined to go farther after being bumped by Loyola Chicago last year, but couldn’t get past the second round again.

All-American center Kofi Cockburn did his part, scoring 19 in 38 minutes to lead Illinois. The big man spurned the NBA last year for a shot at some tournament redemption, only to come up short in what was likely his last college game.

“It hurts really bad, especially for the guys that’s leaving,” Cockburn said. “We always want to leave with with a good feeling, you know? We fell short. Can’t really put it into words.”

Illinois coach Brad Underwood credited Houston’s defense, but didn’t have an answer for his team’s poor shooting (6 of 25 on 3s) or turnovers (17). He got a nice lift from freshmen Luke Goode and RJ Melendez, but not enough from his other regulars.

“We didn’t play very well. We didn’t shoot it very well,” Underwood said. “We played well enough; we didn’t shoot it very well. You look at our two games here, and we just shot it terrible.

“We got great shots, we just couldn’t make them.”

Down by 12 in the first half, Illinois battled back and was within 56-49 after Alfonso Plummer’s four-point play.

But after Shead hit a floater, Houston’s Fabian White Jr. made the play of the game by racing into the backcourt and swatting the ball before it went out of bounds with his left hand to Moore for a layup.

“Culture play, that’s what we call it,” Sampson said. “Those are culture plays. Whenever we watch film, we do edits. We always end our film sessions with culture plays. Everybody wants to be on the edit.

“There were three guys involved in that play. Somebody made a great effort play on the baseline, Fabian made a great effort play, and next thing you know, Taze is getting a layup.”

TECHNICALLY SPEAKING

As Illinois was fighting back, Melendez was called for a questionable technical foul by referee Brian O’Connell for hanging on the rim after a dunk.

The bucket brought the Illini within four in the final 10 minutes, but the call seemed to have a negative effect.

Melendez said he didn’t get an explanation.

Underwood was both puzzled and perturbed by the call

“I can’t wait to see it,” Underwood said. “He (O’Connell) told me he shouldn’t ever have called it, but in the moment he calls it. Maybe it’s personal, I don’t know. When a kid has a full head of steam going 100 miles an hour, and we all talk about safety and well-being of student-athletes, come on.

“And then to kill momentum like that? Horrible.”

No. 18 Houston wins AAC tourney 71-53 over Memphis

Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports
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FORT WORTH, Texas — Fabian White Jr. and No. 18 Houston were a lock for the NCAA Tournament long before they clinched an automatic berth.

Memphis didn’t have to wait long to find out it was going to the school’s first NCAA tourney since 2014, even after losing 71-53 to the Cougars in the American Athletic Conference Tournament championship game Sunday.

It’s the first NCAA appearance for the Tigers in Penny Hardaway’s four seasons as coach.

“It’s tough to be excited after a loss, especially a game we felt like we could have won,” Hardaway said, calling the feeling bittersweet. “I’m going to celebrate being in the NCAA Tournament. That was the ultimate goal.”

Memphis (21-10) was among the first teams revealed during the NCAA selection show, which began about a half-hour after AAC title game. It was so quick that the Tigers missed the live announcement after first going to the locker room before heading to a room upstairs set up to watch the show.

A day after being limited to less than three minutes in the semifinals because of back tightness, White scored 20 points. Fellow first-team All-AAC big man Josh Carlton had 18 for the Cougars (29-5).

Houston had a confetti-filled celebration on the court to mark the tournament title, then went and watched the selection show. After seeing their No. 5 seed in the South Region, matching up with UAB, the Cougars came back out to cut down the nets.

Memphis, which has won 12 of its last 14 games and beat Houston by double figures in both regular-season matchups, is the No. 9 seed in the West Region and will play Boise State.

“We had a pretty good run over the last couple of months,” Hardaway said. “That’s over with. … We’re still alive.”

Taze Moore had 11 points and eight assists for Houston, while Jamal Shead scored 10 points. Kyler Edwards had eight points, 11 rebounds and five assists.

“Just really proud of our team, we’ve had a tough year in some ways,” coach Kelvin Sampson said. “To be able to win the regular season and then win the conference tournament, our kids said it in the locker room, they didn’t want to leave any doubt they were the best team in the conference.”

Memphis center Jalen Duren, a 6-foot-11 freshman who was a first-team All-AAC pick, had 14 points and 10 rebounds. DeAndre Williams had 10 points.

Duren was limited to 17 minutes in the Tigers’ semifinal game, when he got two early fouls, then missed 6 1/2 minutes in the second half after falling hard to the floor after blocking a shot.

The Tigers, after trailing by as many as 15 points in the second half, closed to 51-47 on Duren’s emphatic two-handed dunk with 6:55 left. They never got closer.

Carlton had a three-point play on a slam dunk while being fouled after a nice pass from Moore. Shead then had a hustle play to force a turnover when Memphis had a breakaway chance, and White hit two free throws after a hard tumble when the upper half of his body ended up under the scoring table.

BIG PICTURE

Memphis: After missing the NCAA tourney last year, when they lost to Houston 76-74 in the AAC tournament semifinals, the Tigers went on to win the NIT championship. … Memphis has won at least 20 games in all four seasons under Hardaway, who played in NCAA Tournaments in 1992 and 1993 in his only seasons playing for the Tigers before an NBA career than ended in 2008. … The Tigers’ only other loss the past 14 games was to 23-win SMU, which they beat in the AAC Tournament semifinals.

Houston: The Cougars already have one more win than last season, when they won their first AAC tournament championship and then went to their first NCAA Final Four since 1984.

FLAGRANT APOLOGY

Memphis guard Alex Lomax was called for a flagrant foul after hard contact sent Shead sprawling to the floor with 2:10 left when he was driving toward the basket after a steal by Edwards. Shead jumped up and held up his hand to let his teammates know he was OK, and to ease tensions. Carlton and other teammates hugged Shead as they fired up their fans behind the bench. After referees reviewed the play, Lomax hugged Shead and went to the sideline to shake the hand of Sampson.

Memphis tops No. 14 Houston 75-61

Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal / USA TODAY NETWORK
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tyler Harris scored 15 points and Landers Nolley and Lester Quinones added 11 each to lead Memphis to a 75-61 victory over No. 14 Houston on Sunday.

Kyler Edwards led Houston (26-5) with 19 points.

The Tigers won for the 10th time in 11 games and defeated Houston for the second time this season. Memphis (19-9) beat the Cougars 69-59 last month in Houston to snap the Cougars’ 37-game home winning streak.

The Tigers finished 13-5 in the American Athletic Conference. The 13 conference wins broke the single-season record for the Tigers, who won 12 in 2013-14.

The Tigers won their third consecutive game against a ranked opponent for the first time since the 2007-08 season, when they reached the national championship game against Kansas.

The strong finish to the season may have earned Memphis an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. The Tigers have not appeared in the NCAAs since 2014.

“We’ve put ourselves in a position we should be proud of,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “We understood what the mission was and our guys carried out the mission.”

The Tigers defeated a Houston team that clinched the AAC title for the third time in four seasons last week with a victory over Cincinnati.

“There’s no doubt Memphis was NCAA-tournament worthy today,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said.

The Tigers shot 48 percent, including 47 percent (7 of 15) from beyond the arc.

After surging to a 20-point halftime lead, Memphis was never challenged in the second half. The closest the Cougars got was 13 points (59-46) with 12:24 to go.

Memphis jumped to an 11-4 lead in the opening five minutes by converting five Houston turnovers into seven points. The Tigers’ lead stretched to 14 points (28-14) with eight minutes to go in the first half on Nolley’s 3-pointer and increased to 22 points (42-20) on Quinones’ 3-pointer – following Memphis’ eighth steal – with 3:56 to go.

Memphis senior guard Alex Lomax said the huge, boisterous crowd (17,946) played a role in the fast start of a wire-to-wire victory.

“I feel (Houston) got nervous when they felt the (crowd’s) energy,” said Lomax, who had five steals. “It was so loud you could feel it in your body. It can make you make a terrible pass.”

The Tigers finished with 14 steals, part of a season-worst 20 turnovers by the Cougars.

The Tigers led 49-29 at halftime after shooting 57 percent and scoring 20 points off turnovers. The Memphis bench contributed 20 points in first half, led by 13 from Harris.

BIG PICTURE

Memphis: The Tigers earned their fourth Quad 1 victory. The Tigers are 4-3 in NCAA Net Quad 1 games. … The Tigers’ bench outscored Houston 29-2. … Memphis made 28 consecutive free throws against Houston (Feb. 12 in Houston and Sunday) before a late first-half miss by Lester Quinones.

Houston: The 20 turnovers were the most committed by the Cougars this season. Memphis scored 28 points off turnovers. … Fabian White was held to 11 points in 33 minutes after scoring 20 or more points in each of his previous three games. … Jamal Shead, who leads the AAC in assists at 5.9 per game, had a game-high eight assists.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Houston should remain in the Top 25 for a school-record 44th consecutive week, although the Cougars will fall from their spot at No. 14. Memphis has won 10 of 11, including two over Houston during the stretch, and may sneak into the Top 25 before the start of AAC tournament play later this week in Fort Worth, Texas.

UP NEXT

Memphis and Houston will begin play in the AAC tournament, which starts Thursday. Houston is a lock for an NCAA tournament invitation regardless of what happens in Fort Worth. Memphis may have earned an at-large berth with Sunday’s win.

No. 14 Houston beats Temple 84-46 for 6th straight win

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
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HOUSTON — Fabian White Jr. had 26 points and six rebounds and No. 14 Houston scored the first 15 points in an 84-46 victory over Temple on Thursday night.

White was 11 of 18 from the field to help the Cougars (26-4, 15-2 American Athletic) win their sixth straight. The graduate senior has scored at least 20 points in three straight games.

“Once we came in at halftime and had a little sit down and realized how close we were to cutting the nets down, it just kind of took us up a little bit,” White said. “It just shows our grittiness, our defense and our culture.”

Taze Moore added 19 points, Jamal Shead had 10 points and a career-high 13 assists, and Josh Carlton finished with 11 points and eight rebounds.

Houston shot 53%, including 63% in the second half. It made 10 of 25 3-pointers and had a 42-18 advantage in points in the paint.

“We know what it takes to get where we want to go,” Moore said. “We have a lot of guys that are strong, that are strong minded and are willing. When you have a team that is winning like we are and that’s all together, it’s hard to beat a team like this.”

Nick Jourdain and Jahlil White each scored 10 points for Temple (16-11, 9-7). Jourdain fouled out 4 1/2 minutes into the second half after picking up his fourth foul and getting called for a technical foul. The Owls shot 31%, including 5 of 19 (26%) in the second half.

White capped the opening 15-0 run with a layup, but the Owls responded with a 14-3 spurt – cutting it two four on two free throws by Jourdain with 9:42 left in the first half.

“We came out a step slow,” Temple coach Aaron McKie said. “It could have been a number of different things. It’s what they do. They get out on you early. I thought we did a good job of fighting back into it.”

The Cougars answered with an 11-3 run, making it 29-17 on a dunk by White with four minutes remaining, and took a 33-23 lead into halftime.

Temple closed within seven to start the second half, but that was as close as the Owls would get. They went 11:18 without a field goal in the second half.

“I thought we were doing a good job of attacking and not having to settle, but you have to make shots in this game,” McKie said. “You can defend as much as you want, but you have to be able to put the ball in the basket.”

BIG PICTURE

Temple: The Owls have not beaten a ranked opponent since Jan. 15, 2020, when it topped then-No. 16 Wichita State. . Temple’s bench scored 28 points.

Houston: The Cougars extended their winning streak to six games over Temple. . Houston finished 16-1 at home this season. . The Cougars outscored Temple 51-23 in the second half. . Houston forced 20 turnovers and turned it into 27 points.

GETTING TECHNICALS

Along with Jourdain’s technical foul, Arashma Parks and Moore were each given technical fouls with 6:57 remaining in the second half. After Moore made an alley-oop off the backboard, he got into it with Parks at midcourt, with Parks pushing Moore as the officials and coaches got in the middle of the scrum before anything else could happen.

CELEBRATING THE CHAMPIONSHIP

Following the game, the Cougars celebrated their AAC regular season championship holding up the trophy to the fans and cutting down the nets. The Cougars clinched the title on Tuesday but waited to cut down the nets until Thursday.

“These guys have worked hard,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “They’ve listened. They’ve followed instructions. They believe in the culture of our program. They’ve embraced it.”

UP NEXT

Temple: Hosts South Florida on Sunday in the regular-season finale.

Houston: At Memphis on Sunday to close out the regular season.