PHILADELPHIA (AP)Jermaine Samuels spotted up, let the ball fly and — bang — the 3-pointer swished, and some 20,000 delirious Villanova fans shook the arena. With time running out, the game on the line, Samuels was fearless.
”I just shot it unconsciously,” he said.
He did, and one more No. 1 got KO’d.
Kansas became the latest top-ranked team to fall in the wildest of basketball seasons, another week where it’s no fun at No. 1.
Samuels hit the winner with 20.5 seconds left to lead No. 18 Villanova to a 56-55 victory on Saturday , and the Wildcats became the only team to beat KU twice at No. 1 under coach Bill Self.
”The reason why No. 1 lost today is because they played a team that’s really good in their building,” Self said. ”I don’t think it had anything to do with what anybody is ranked.”
Tell that to those who believe something is in the air at the top of the poll.
Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center and former Jayhawk Joel Embiid looked forlorn as he walked past the Nova cheerleaders. He popped in the KU locker room and told the team, ”keep trying.”
”Profound words of wisdom,” Self cracked.
At this pace, the Big 12 Jayhawks (9-2) may get another run at No. 1. Kansas had moved up one spot to become the fifth team to top the poll this season. It is the first time the AP poll has had five different No. 1s before New Year’s Day; the record for an entire season is seven, set in 1982-83.
Get ready for a sixth when the Top 25 is released Monday.
”It’s just one of those years,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. ”There just isn’t one team that’s dominant.”
Unlike Duke and Louisville, which lost to unranked teams, KU lost to a traditional national power that has had its number in recent seasons. The Wildcats (9-2) finally nudged ahead in a back-and-forth game in the final minute.
Samuels hit the 3 to make it 56-55, the big one in an otherwise awful 10 of a school-record 41 3 attempts for the Wildcats.
”I knew it was a good time to catch-and-shoot. If they’re going to give us 3s, we’ll take them when we can,” Samuels said.
It got tense for Villanova, though. Collin Gillespie was whistled for a foul and KU’s Devon Dotson missed his game-tying free throw.
The Wildcats threw the ball away with 11.2 seconds left that gave KU possession and would yield two looks at the basket.
”Give me a lob!” one KU fan screamed on the final play.
Not quite. Dotson missed a contested layup on the final shot as the clock expired and Kansas’ nine-game winning streak ended.
”We were just trying to get Dot with his right hand going downhill,” Self said.
Samuels scored 15 points and Gillespie had 12 for Villanova.
Dotson led KU with 15 points and Udoka Azubuike had 12 points and 11 rebounds. KU also was No. 1 when it lost to Villanova in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
”I think that our team benefited from playing this game,” Self said.
The game was full of long scoring lulls followed by rapid-fire baskets, but each team at last got rolling over the final eight minutes. Samuels sank a 3 as the shot clock expired for a 46-44 lead and Gillespie made it 51-49 on a 3 that came on the third shot of the possession.
The crowd at Wells Fargo Center was treated to riveting second half between two schools that know how to win big games.
The first half, however, was a dud. Villanova shot 29 percent and KU 37 percent, but the paltry percentages were due more to two teams missing open looks than any sort of defensive struggle.
The Wildcats made it a game with their one surge that had a packed house roaring. Cole Swider hit a 3, Cole Swider scored a fastbreak layup off a turnover and Justin Moore buried a 3, an 8-0 run that gave the Wildcats a one-point lead.
But from there – as is said in Philly college basketball – it was ”bad hoops.” And this fit the definition, missed 3s, missed layups — and so many missed opportunities for either team to pull away.
KU-Villanova has turned into one of the better nonconference rivalries since the turn of the century. Kansas beat Villanova in 2008 in the NCAA Tournament on the way to the national title; Nova got the Jayhawks back in 2016 and 2018 with tourney wins on its road to two national championships. Villanova’s 83-62 win over No. 2 and undefeated Kansas in 2005 was a defining victory for a program still trying to find a path to prominence. The Wildcats would make the first of their 14 NCAA Tournament appearances under Wright.
”You learn lessons from playing the best teams,” Wright said.
They’ve certainly been schooled on how to beat KU.
Kansas: The Jayhawks lost starting guard Marcus Garrett (9.4 points) to an ankle injury with 5:14 left in the first half. Self didn’t expect Garrett to miss any time.
Villanova: The Wildcats improved to 7-16 vs. AP No. 1 teams and their first win in the regular season since they beat UConn in 2006. The Wildcats improved to 24-1 in their last 25 games at the Wells Fargo Center and have won 10 straight overall at the home of the 76ers.
HE SAID IT
”Jay’s very hopeful he plays in a lot more big games than this, and I’m very hopeful of the same thing. This would be a great game to win, obviously, for seeding purposes.” – Self.
Kansas plays Dec. 29 at Stanford.
Villanova opens Big East play against Xavier on Dec. 30 at the Pavilion.
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