SAN ANTONIO — Eric Paschall was close to perfect in the Final Four.
The Villanova forward became the fifth player to go 10 for 11 or better from the floor in a Final Four game as the Wildcats thrashed Kansas 95-79 on Saturday night to advance to the NCAA Tournament championship against Michigan.
Paschall, a junior transfer from Fordham, joins a club with some impressive members. Bill Walton set the standard for all Final Four performances, going 21 for 22 in UCLA’s 1973 NCAA championship game against Memphis. Jerry Lucas of Ohio State in 1961, Billy Thompson of Louisville in 1986 and Sean May of North Carolina in 2005 all went 10 for 11 like Paschall.
The 6-foot-7 junior’s career-high 24 points included 4 for 5 from 3-point range. Paschall shot 28 percent from 3 last season, his first playing for the Wildcats after sitting out the 2015-16 championship year, and then he couldn’t buy a bucket from deep early this season. He has found the range since and now is yet another 3-point threat for one of the best shooting teams in the country. The Wildcats set a Final Four record with 18 made 3s against Kansas.
“Just working with coaches,” Paschall said. “They did a great job of just staying with me, knowing that I was struggling and I didn’t really think about it.”
As freshman at Fordham, Paschall was one of the Rams’ few weapons. He took a lot of 3-pointers because the team needed that from him, but he made only 31.5 percent. He transferred to Villanova after a coaching change at Fordham.
“But as soon as we got him as soon as he came, the year he sat out, he worked really hard,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “And he really became a pretty good 3-point shooter. And then he just struggled a little bit. And this summer he was a great 3-point shooter. And in the fall, great. And when he started this season it was unbelievable. He couldn’t make a shot. And I know people are saying, ‘Why do you let him shoot it?’ But we knew, we had seen two years of him shooting the ball extremely well.
“So we just said to him: ‘Just keep shooting. We know you’re a good shooter.’”
Paschall came in averaging 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, but he has stepped it up lately. In the East regional semifinal against West Virginia, he scored 14 points, and in the regional final against Texas Tech, he had 12 points and 14 rebounds.
“He’s a beast on both ends of the floor,” guard Phil Booth said. “He’s always been great defensively. Now offensively he’s been picking up. It just shows how talented a player he is.”
Along Omari Spellman, the 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman, Paschall gives Villanova two players big enough to bang in the paint and skilled enough to fit in the Wildcats’ free-flowing offense.
“Their size and athleticism really makes it difficult,” guard Donte DiVencenzo said. “And their ability to step out and knock down 3s just opens it up for everybody else to get downhill, get in the lane. Get in the lane, make plays for one another and when you have it going like that you can play small and you can play big.
“You can play Eric at the 5. Or you can play Eric at the 4 and Omari at the 5 and you don’t lose anything.”