The Villanova Wildcats have made quite a second home for themselves in the Alamo City, where they won a national championship in 2018 and are carving a path toward another.
Jermaine Samuels scored 22 points, Collin Gillespie scored 12 and made a key 3-pointer late, and Villanova controlled Michigan in a 63-55 Sweet 16 victory on Thursday night in the NCAA Tournament.
Samuels and Gillespie were freshmen in that title run a few years ago. Now, they are grizzled veterans and long-time starters who are still around because of the extra season of eligibility due to the pandemic.
They’re also the driving force for second-seeded Villanova (28-7), which advanced to the South Region final. They’ll play No. 5 seed Houston (32-5), which beat top seed Arizona 72-60. It’s the deepest run in the tournament for Villanova since coach Jay Wright won the second of his two national titles in 2018 — against Michigan.
Samuels’ 8-of-13 shooting performance, much of it coming on tough drives through Michigan defenders and around Wolverines 7-foot-1 center Hunter Dickinson, carried a Wildcats offense that had long stretches of misfiring on 3-pointers.
Samuels battled Dickinson on both ends of the court, and challenged the big man every time he had the ball to divert shots or force outlet passes.
“I just wanted to stay mobile and move,” Samuels said. “He’s a phenomenal player, so he’s going to get great looks at the basket. But that I have teammates behind me gave me all the confidence I needed.”
The loss ends a turbulent season for the Wolverines (19-15) and coach Juwan Howard, whose team squeaked into the tournament field only to shine in the first two rounds. Howard was suspended for five games late in the season for hitting a Wisconsin assistant during a postgame handshake line.
“We learned a lot (about) who we are,” Howard said. “We always talk about Michigan being a family. We’ve been the most connected group this year because of the fact everyone has been supporting each other. When I walk away from this season, and I look back, there’s no reason not to hold your head up high.”
Villanova twice threatened to pull away in the second half, but the Wolverines matched Nova’s 3-point shooting in spurts to hang around. Guard Eli Brooks kept rescuing Michigan with 3-pointers, making 3 of 5. One of Brooks’ 3s, plus two free throws from Terrance Williams II, had the Wolverines within 54-50 with just over 3 minutes left.