Sideline Report: Villanova and North Carolina provide an instant classic in the national championship game

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Braden Shaw, JagWire editor-in-chief

I’d like to start off this column with an apology. Coming into this NCAA tournament, I had little to no faith in the Villanova Wildcats. Yeah, they’d spent time ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll and had won the Big East regular season title. They even got a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, and had a manageable road to the Final Four. But, in my lack of foresight, I regrettably picked them to lose in the round of 32 to Temple. Whoops.

So, sorry Villanova. To say the least, you proved me wrong. You not only won your first national title since 1985, but became the first national champion to defeat four AP-ranked top 10 teams in the same tournament since that 1985 team. It was a remarkable performance, as not only did you shoot a ridiculous shooting percentage, but you also played incredible defense.

As the tournament progressed, I kept waiting for Villanova to lose. Even as they defeated Miami in the Sweet Sixteen, Kansas in the Elite Eight and Oklahoma in the Final Four, I thought North Carolina would be the trump card. North Carolina was the preseason No. 1 and looked incredible for the majority of the season. I was just hoping for a good game. To say the least, I wasn’t disappointed.

The first half exceeded expectations as both teams clearly were well-prepared and neither could quite hold a substantial lead for very long. Whenever Villanova or North Carolina looked like they might run away, the other would come back with a run to change the lead yet again. At the end of a tightly contested first half, North Carolina held onto a 39-34 lead, but Villanova was very much still in the game.

I didn’t think it was possible, but the second half of this game was one of the best halves of basketball I’ve seen all year, at least. The two teams fought back and forth for 20 minutes, exchanging physical play and ridiculous shots. Whenever North Carolina senior guard Marcus Paige — who finished the game with 21 points, six assists and five rebounds — would hit a tough shot to give his team the lead, Villanova would come back with a run of their own. These players stepped up for big moments and they all got their share of time in the spotlight.

Without the defensive rebounding of junior guard Josh Hart and the scoring off the bench from sophomore guard Phil Booth, Villanova wouldn’t have been in this game. Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono’s leadership and junior guard Kris Jenkins’ shooting ability also contributed to Villanova’s late lead. With 1:39 left in the game, Villanova held onto a 70-64 lead. I thought that they might finally pull away.

But North Carolina came storming back, cutting the lead to 74-71 with just 13 seconds left in the game. At this point, I thought Villanova might just edge it out if they could make their free throws.

With 13.7 seconds left, North Carolina ran down the court, looking to tie the game or at least cut into the lead. Sophomore guard Joel Berry II passed the ball to Paige, who had to dodge Villanova junior forward Daniel Ochefu. Then, Paige took the shot, having to double-clutch as Arcidiacono stormed in to alter the shot. Somehow, someway: swish.

With 4.7 seconds left, the game was tied. I distinctly remember thinking at this point that that shot would be replayed and remembered forever if North Carolina went on to win this insane game. But, yet again, Villanova managed to surprise me one last time.

Following a Villanova timeout, Arcidiacono had the ball in his hands. The senior guard was having a great tournament, but opted to give the ball up to Jenkins to try to win the game with a last second three-pointer. And, for the first time since 1983, the national title was decided by a buzzer beater.

The finish to this game was unfathomable, unimaginable, unreal. Both teams deserved to win the game, but Villanova had the ball last and Jenkins — instead of Paige — will be remembered as a March Madness legend.

North Carolina just couldn’t quite pull it out, and, at the end of the day, Villanova was standing on that stage with confetti raining down after a 77-74 victory. Arcidiacono was named the NCAA tournament’s most outstanding player, with 15.5 points per game. Head coach Jay Wright — who called that last shot before it went in — was reserved on camera, but I’m sure he was ecstatic to finally get that elusive championship.

The Villanova Wildcats are the kings of the college basketball world, amid much doubt and uncertainty. For these players, this coach and this team, there was definitely more than just “One Shining Moment.”

Junior Braden Shaw is a passionate sports fan who follows sports at both the college and professional level. He loves to defend his unpopular opinions on the University of Nebraska, Sporting KC, Chiefs and Royals and is always up for a debate over any game or team.

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