Villanova beat North Carolina, 77-74, in the final of the NCAA Tournament on Monday night, earning the Wildcats a second national title and first under head coach Jay Wright. The championship game lived up to its considerable billing, with the country's two best teams challenging each other all night at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Ultimately, it was Villanova's night. Kris Jenkins hit a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer, answering Marcus Paige's off-balance tying bomb that evened the score just five seconds earlier. This might well have been the best college basketball game ever played, and Villanova came out on the happy end.
It was clear quickly that things would be competitive all night. While both teams have spent the tournament mostly blowing out the opposition, each answered the other early on. Villanova hung around despite Jenkins sitting for much of the first half with two early fouls, and North Carolina got its biggest offensive push via the three-pointer.
The Heels were 7-of-9 from deep in the first 20 minutes, marking a sharp break from their three-point woes all season. And they ended the half on a 12-5 run over the last four minutes and change to hit the break with a 39-34 lead.
Carolina's late first-half surge set Villanova on a bit of an uphill climb as the second half began, but the Wildcats kept themselves within reach. They pulled back to a 44-44 tie with 14 minutes left, and then they kept charging.
Villanova had a five-point lead by the under-eight media timeout, flipping its halftime deficit entirely. It was six at the next commercial break, and all the Wildcats had to do from there was finish.
The Tar Heels responded, though. They went on a 12-3 run to cut the lead to 70-69 with exactly a minute on the clock, putting the most dramatic spotlight possible on the last 60 seconds of play.
Paige hit his preposterous, off-balance three-pointer to tie the game with five seconds left. That set up Jenkins' heroic response, giving Villanova the sort of win that college basketball fans will never forget.
Every national championship is impressive, but Villanova's run seems particularly so. The Wildcats won four of their first five games by double digits and then managed to slay an incredible North Carolina team that had won all its tournament contests by double-digit totals. This is as deserved a championship as anyone could dream up.
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