LAWRENCE — Patrick Mahomes, George Brett and 16,298 rip-roaring college basketball fans experienced the following Saturday afternoon inside Allen Fieldhouse: a top-25 showdown, a Final Four rematch, an unrivaled home-court advantage and, arguably, the very best of the sport.
What they didn’t witness, however, was revenge — at least in the mind of Bill Self.
That, the KU coach contends, is a dish that can only be served come March.
The top-ranked Jayhawks dispatched No. 17 Villanova, 74-71, in a high-profile and, at least around Lawrence, highly anticipated nonconference showdown. KU, which entered the weekend last in the Big 12 and 300th nationally with a 62.4-percent free-throw conversion rate, made 11 of 12 at the stripe in the final 70 seconds to hold off the charging Wildcats.
The vintage Phog atmosphere — unofficial readings put the decibel level near 120 around tipoff — likely reflected a fan base eager to stick it to a Villanova program that has ended two of the Jayhawks’ last three seasons in the NCAA Tournament, including last year’s 95-79 shellacking in the national semifinals.
While Self was pleased with the outcome, he indicated the satisfaction of a regular-season victory can’t offset the heartbreak of postseason defeat.
“To think that this was a revenge game, that would be like us beating Georgia Tech (in 2005) after they beat us in the Elite Eight,” said Self, referring to a season-ending 79-71 overtime loss to the Yellow Jackets in Self’s first season at KU. “It’s not a revenge game. To our fans and players, of course. But to a coaching staff? Nah.”
Revenge aside, the Jayhawks (9-0) can credit this outcome to two players who were part of last year’s defeat — one who started and played 32 minutes, and another who watched from the sideline.
Lagerald Vick scored a game-high 29 points and hit three of the Jayhawks’ five 3s against the Wildcats, taking over in another closing stretch with a 19-point second half. Dedric Lawson, who sat out last season because of NCAA transfer regulations, scored 28 points, hauled in 12 rebounds and committed no turnovers against Wildcats (8-3).
It was a one-two punch the otherwise listless KU offense sorely needed.
“Those two headliners, they were terrific,” Self said. “They were both terrific.”
Trailing by three points with 8:56 remaining, Vick tied the game with KU’s first trey of the second half, a step-back make in the corner out of a timeout.
“Man, he’s been making ’em all year,” Lawson said. “I had a feeling that step-back in the corner was going to go in just because that’s what we expect out of him, to make tough shots to get us out of tough situations. Lagerald, he has been phenomenal all year and I hope it continues.”
The teams traded blows until Lawson — serenaded with a “Let’s go Jayhawks” chant that erupted in response to a pocket of Wildcat supporters chanting “Let’s go Nova” — hit a go-ahead layup in heavy traffic to give KU a one-point lead with five minutes left. Vick and Lawson followed with a jumper apiece, and while the Jayhawks needed to make 11 of their final 12 free-throw attempts to fend off a furious rally from Nova’s Phil Booth and Collin Gillespie (seven and six points, respectively, in the final 61 seconds), the team never trailed from the time the upperclassman duo took control.
Marcus Garrett found a streaking Devon Dotson on a clean inbounds play to kill the final second and send the teams to the handshake line.
“I know it means a lot to a lot of people,” Lawson said of the victory. “That’s why a lot of people came to the game and things like that. They wanted to see us beat Villanova. The past three times, Coach had said they’d beaten him. We wanted to win one for Coach and win one for the guys and also for the fans out there — they got up at 11 (a.m.) to come to a college basketball game.”
Vick, the Jayhawks’ lone senior and therefore the only player to experience both the 2016 and ’18 season-enders, acknowledged payback “definitely” played a role in his motivations Saturday.
“You look back at those moments and (I) try not to hold it over my head,” Vick said. “Just went out there and just left it all out there playing for the team, coaches and fans.”
Dotson (11 points) rounded out the Jayhawks’ double-figure scorers, hitting all four of his free-throw attempts in the game’s final 70 seconds. Booth (29 points), Gillespie (15) and Final Four hero Eric Paschall (17) led the way for the Wildcats.
KU continues its season with a much lower-profile tilt, hosting South Dakota at 11 a.m. Tuesday. They’ll do so on the back of a feel-good win — just not one, as Self emphasized, that should be considered revenge.
But if Self and Nova counterpart Jay Wright happen to stand on the same court again this season — oh, say, in March? Well, that would certainly be another story.
“This was just a good game that allows you to maybe have a quality win when it comes to seeding and all that stuff, and you can play through the experiences, make your team better,” Self said. “But Jay will be the first to tell you: We’re going to play in bigger games than this.”