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NEW ORLEANS – No. 1 seed Kansas will be playing for two national championships, in a way, Monday night.
The Jayhawks (33-6) will meet No. 8 seed North Carolina (29-9) for the 2022 national title at 9:20 p.m. eastern on CBS. But they will also be playing for the 2020 team.
Kansas now gets to finish what it thought it had started two years ago when it finished the regular season No. 1 in the nation and at 28-3 overall with a Big 12 championship at 17-1. But the NCAA Tournament was canceled because of COVID-19. The heart and soul of this team – Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun, Jalen Wilson and David McCormack – were on that team.
“We had a great team in ’20. I think there’s added value placed on this one because of what we missed out on in 2020,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
“You don’t come to Kansas to play in the Final Four,” Braun said. “We come to Kansas to win the national championship.”
The Jayhawks made sure they would make it to Monday as they took a 10-0 lead over No. 2 seed Villanova in the opening moments and were never seriously threatened on their way to an 81-65 victory in the first Final Four national semifinal at the Superdome Saturday night.
“We come to Kansas for the games like this and the game Monday,” Agbaji said after playing like the consensus All-American he is with 21 points on 6-of-7 shooting from three-point range. “Obviously, my teammates were finding me tonight.”
The Jayhawks won their ninth straight in this undercard pairing with torrid shooting, hitting 13 of 24 from three-point range for 54 percent and 29 of 54 overall for 53 percent.
“We just shot it so well,” Self said. “I don’t remember us going 13 for 24.”
McCormack scored 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting with nine rebounds for Kansas.
“He was fabulous,” Self said of McCormack.
Wilson added 11 points with 12 rebounds and five assists for the Jayhawks with a three-pointer, and Braun scored 10 points with a pair of three-pointers and five assists.
Villanova (30-8) trailed 40-29 at the half before fighting to within 64-58 with 6:10 remaining, but could get no closer. Collin Gillespie led the Wildcats with 17, including 5-of-8 shooting from three-point range.
“They were playing better than us in the first 12 minutes of the second half, but we always seemed to have an answer,” Self said.
Kansas hit seven of its first 10 shots from three-point range in the first half for a 36-18 lead with 6:34 to go on Remy Martin’s trey.
Agbaji couldn’t be stopped from the opening horn for Kansas as he hit 4-of-4 three-pointers in the first eight minutes and 12 seconds for a 19-8 lead. He hit his first trey at the 19:45 mark for a 3-0 lead and followed that at 17:26 for a 10-0 advantage, 13:32 for a 16-5 bulge and the fourth at 11:48.
“With the start he gave us, he just got everybody going,” Self said.
Kansas hit 7 of 14 from three-point range in the first half. McCormack had 13 for the Jayhawks in the first half.
Villanova cut a 38-19 deficit with 4:55 left in the first half lead to 38-29 in just three minutes as Gillespie scored eight points in the 10-0 run with a pair of three-pointers and finished the half with 11. Mitch Lightfoot’s putback gave Kansas a 40-29 halftime lead.
Senior guard Caleb Daniels of New Orleans started for just the third time all season for Villanova as he replaced injured guard Justin Moore and scored 13 points. Moore, who was averaging 14.8 points, tore his Achilles tendon in the final moments of Villanova’s win over Houston in the NCAA South Regional title game last week. He could only watch the game from courtside.