“We always had an answer,” Braun said.
It was hard to imagine a worse start for Villanova.
Kansas scored the first 10 points, Villanova turned the ball over on four consecutive possessions and Agbaji was on fire, making his first four shots, all 3-pointers. When Agbaji sliced through the Villanova defense and dished to McCormack for a rim-rattling dunk, Kansas had thrust its lead to 26-11 a little more than 10 minutes into the game, prompting a timeout by Villanova.
“The reason they were effective inside with their size was because they got us spread out early with Agbaji hitting 3s and we weren’t able to get off and help in the post,” Coach Jay Wright said, adding that keeping Agbaji in check was a priority. “That can become a problem for us.”
That Agbaji would play such a central role was hard to see coming when he arrived in Lawrence five years ago. He was one of the better players in Kansas City and an excellent student, but he did not even start for his Amateur Athletic Union team, MoKan Elite, and so he came to Lawrence as somebody whom the coaches hoped would be a good teammate and grow into a role player.
Instead, he has morphed into something much more — an athletic wing with a deadly jump shot who was the player of the year in the Big 12, the most competitive conference in the country over the last few seasons, and a first-team All-America.
“Obviously, my role has changed over the years,” Agbaji said. “I came in just being a contributor, a guy off the bench, and then I ended up earning my starting role. As the years went by, my scoring was more needed on the teams and then this year, obviously, just to step up and be that man.”
Agbaji made just 2 of his first 15 3 pointers in the tournament before regaining his shooting touch in the Midwest regional final against Miami. Even when he was struggling, his confidence did not waver and he found other ways to contribute.
Agbaji on Saturday night was the fulcrum of a Kansas offense that whirled and cut, the sound of sneakers persistently squeaking on the Superdome floor as the ball zipped around the perimeter, relegating one of the nation’s most determined defenses to ball chasing.