SAN ANTONIO — Villanova bombed its way past a blueblood to reach the national title game. Michigan got there by taking away Cinderella’s slipper.
This end to March Madness should be good.
A wild NCAA Tournament of upsets comes down to this: Villanova and its squadron of long-range shooters against Michigan and its ultra-stingy defense, Monday night at the Alamodome.
The Wildcats (35-4) turned a Final Four showdown with fellow No. 1 seed Kansas into a laugher, dropping in 3-pointers like they were playing pop-a-shot in the 95-79 rout. Villanova made a Final Four-record 18 3s in a record-matching 40 attempts, its second trip to the title game in three seasons never in doubt.
The third-seeded Wolverines (33-7) had a bit more trouble against the bracket’s favorite underdogs, overcoming a frightful first half to send Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean packing.
The Wolverines had trouble scoring in their Final Four game to trail Loyola-Chicago by seven at halftime, before finding the right gear in the second to run past the underdog Ramblers 69-57 into the title game.
Their next task: Find some way to slow Villanova’s 3-ball roll.
The Wildcats were one of the most proficient 3-point shooting teams during the regular season and upped the 3 ante in the NCAA Tournament, knocking down a record 65 and counting. Villanova literally shot the lights out by the second half, when some scoreboards and upper-level lights went out for a few minutes and darkened the upper decks.
Michigan may have a better answer than Kansas had.
The Wolverines have fixed the one thing holding them back in past seasons, developing a lockdown defense so they no longer have to simply outscore opponents.
Michigan had the nation’s No. 3 defense efficiency-wise and put Loyola on lockdown in the second half, holding the Ramblers to 1-of-7 shooting from 3 to send Sister Jean Delores Schmidt to the exits early.
The Wolverines are seeking their first national title since Glen Rice and Rumeal Robinson rumbled through the bracket in 1989.
Michigan 69, Loyola 57
Staring down a 10-point deficit against an underdog that seemed nothing short of blessed during the madness of March, Moe Wagner and Michigan clamped down on Loyola-Chicago and ended one of the most memorable NCAA Tournament runs ever.
Wagner, Charles Matthews and the Wolverines erased a 10-point second-half deficit and Michigan beat the Ramblers 69-57 Saturday night in the Final Four. Lima Senior graduate Xavier Simpson did not score but had three assists and three rebounds for Michigan.
The third-seeded Wolverines (33-7) will take a 14-game winning streak into their first national championship game appearance since 2013, and second under coach Jon Beilein.
Michigan will play either Villanova or Kansas for its first NCAA title since 1989 on Monday night at the Alamodome.
Lovable Loyola (32-6), with superfan Sister Jean courtside and their fans behind the bench standing for pretty much the entire game, could not conjure another upset. The Ramblers were the fourth 11th-seeded team to make it this far and like the previous three, the semifinals were the end of the road.
Coach Porter Moser said he was proud of players Ben Richardson, Aundre Jackson and Donte Ingram for holding it together during a postgame news conference, answering questions with red eyes and long faces.
“It was as tough a locker room as I’ve seen,” Moser said. “They believed that they belong. They believed, they wanted to advance.”
Loyola had no answers for the 6-foot-11 Wagner and its offense, so smooth and efficient on the way to San Antonio, broke down in the second half and finished with 17 turnovers.
Wagner, playing in front of his parents who made the trip from Germany, scored 24 points, had 15 rebounds and was 10 for 16 from the field. Matthews, the Kentucky transfer and Chicago native, added 17 points, including a run-out dunk with 1:33 left that made it 63-53.
And that was that.