HOUSTON — They’re going to party like it’s 1985 after all.
These Villanova Wildcats finished off one of the most improbable and offensively insane NCAA tournament runs, culminating in a 77-74 win against North Carolina Monday night in the championship game at NRG Stadium.
Kris Jenkins' three-pointer at the buzzer lifted the Wildcats in one of the most thrilling championship games in tournament history.
The title is just the second in Villanova program history; the first, of course, belongs to the ’85 team that played the so-called Perfect Game to upset Georgetown in the championship game. Legendary Villanova coach Rollie Massimino, who coached that team, attended the game along with many members of the ’85 team. Some Villanova fans wore T-shirts tying the two teams together.
Indeed, there was something magical and full-circle about this Wildcat squad.
Maybe it was the 71.4% shooting performance against Oklahoma in the Final Four, the second-best shooting performance by any team in Final Four history. The first? The ’85 Villanova team.
Perhaps it was just time. Jay Wright had been at the helm for 15 years, and he’d yet to win a title for himself. Or maybe karmic balance? Here’s a team that crashed out of the NCAA tournament without reaching even a Sweet 16 each of the last two years, earning the label of a perennial tournament disappointment. And the same core group, led by the winningest senior class in Villanova history in Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, is the group that wins a title.
The phrase “team of destiny” gets tossed around a bit too frequently, and while this had the feel, it’s more than that. The Wildcat defense was spectacular and smothering all tournament long. Villanova’s shooting was nothing short of legendary; 2016 Villanova trails only the 1996 Kentucky team — “The Untouchables” — in its average margin of victory throughout the NCAA tournament.
Villanova’s offense came alive in the second half, after it survived the first half largely by willing itself to stay in this game. Arcidiacono, in particular, served this purpose, scoring seven early points to hold serve a bit while North Carolina started out very, very hot from three.
The Tar Heels grabbed control late in the first half — from beyond the arc, which came as somewhat of a surprise, considering they were 0-12 to start their national semifinal game against Syracuse on Saturday. They shot 7-of-9 from three in the first half of the title game, giving the Wildcats a taste of their own medicine; they’d been the hot-shooting squad in every single game they’d played in this NCAA tournament to date. North Carolina also, as expected, owned the glass in the first half, with 10 defensive rebounds and five offensive boards.
Joel Berry stole the show, at one point scoring 12 consecutive North Carolina points, and finishing with 15 at the break. Part of what helped the Heels was two early fouls called against Villanova forward Kris Jenkins, which forced the Wildcats to play small for most of the first half.
The craziest part about the highly entertaining first half? That Villanova only trailed by five at the break, and had momentum with a Josh Hart block leading to a Phil Booth jumper at the first-half buzzer.