Villanova’s Kris Jenkins Delivers Basketball Classic

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What a shot!

It was a shot for the ages.

Those wonderful stories which are often associated with NCAA basketball, and which, indeed, have created lasting memories, inspired the whole country, captivated the hearts of fans and thrilled us all with a game-winning shot. This was one of the craziest and most memorable finishes in the history of college basketball, and possibly the greatest in Villanova history.

All this fuss over a shot? Sure.

The game ended with what was arguably the biggest shot in the history of an NCAA Tournament championship game, one that turned Villanova fans into a state of euphoria. In front of an announced 74,340 fans who were in delirium or stunned silent at NRG Stadium, the unimaginable became real, the impossible become possible, and the Wildcats won a second national title in dramatic fashion, defeating favored North Carolina 77-74 with an amazing buzzer-beater. With only 4.7 seconds left in the season finale, senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono drew the in-bound pass from Jenkins, worked the ball up the court and flipped a soft pass back to Jenkins for the game-winning shot at the buzzer following a timeout.

Before the buzzer sounded, Jenkins squared up about three feet behind the three-point line, released the ball with 0.4 seconds left and watched it clank through the net as the clock expired. It happened so fast. It was a defining moment. Jenkins is, by now, the school’s most famous player. In a matter of a few seconds, he turned a historic game into the school’s greatest victory. He had just made the biggest shot ever of his life. KRIS JENKINS AT THE BUZZER … A shot makes a splash. A season ended in dramatic fashion, an amazing shot decided it all, in what was the most anticipated title game, and the Villanova crowd began to scream, as silver-and-gold confetti fell from the rafters. After he let it go, he raised his arms in the air as if he had a feeling it would fall in. Jenkins’ teammates rushed the elevated hardwood floor and guard Josh Hart tackled Jenkins.

The last time anyone heard from Villanova before Monday night, players poured onto the court, mobbing each other and dancing in unexpected joy after an improbable run and stunning upset over Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA championship. It’s taken three decades, but the Wildcats have finally become a serious basketball program from the Big East with strong leadership, a competitive drive, and athletic intelligence.

In a game that had so much drama, the most compelling and unscripted moment in North Carolina basketball was created by senior Marcus Paige. Even if the Tar Heels erased a 10-point deficit over the final 5:29 and tied it at 74 on a clutch, circus three from Paige, Roy Williams and his kids were beaten at the final ticks of the clock. This being an instant classic, ranks among the best, and should we talk about a game of this magnitude, we cannot ever forget about Paige’s shot that could have been one of the most memorable in college basketball history.

It was only fitting that Arcidiacono, who scored 15 points, was named the Most Outstanding Player while Jenkins was the Most Outstanding Hero. This was a good way for Arcidiacono to make up for his error that allowed North Carolina to tie the game. What happened on that possession could have cost Villanova its season when he tossed a pass out of bounds with 1:15 left. But the ball was indeed in the hands of the unselfish point guard following a timeout called by Villanova coach Jay Wright. He dribbled toward the basket with the clock winding down and that’s when he found Jenkins. He said that the Wildcats run the end-of-game play every single day in practice and indeed it worked.

It was one shinning moment.

The Wildcats like to play Philly-brand basketball, and it showed. This team was tougher, hungrier and bigger than everybody it plays, only to describe their play as Philadelphia toughness. Today, this is a happy story for Villanova, who is now national champions after one big shot that changed the way one perceives Wildcats basketball. They were playing certainly the biggest and best team — and one favorite to win the championship game. And how perfect it was that the Wildcats matched up with one of the few programs in college basketball with a winning tradition, and against a team with size and athletic ability.

On this night, Rollie Massimino, the coach who guided Villanova to its title in 1985, saw it all with Ed Pinckney, a member of the ’85 champions. He was planning on staying home with his ailing wife, Mary Jane, but he changed his mind when he was treated to a private jet flight from his home in Jupiter, Fla., where he has been battling with kidney stones and a blood clot. A friend offered him a trip on Monday to attend Monday night’s championship game, as he finally made up his mind. He has a strong relationship with Coach Wright and, in fact, Massimino hired him as a Villanova assistant in 1987 and endorsed him for the head-coaching job.

With all this talent, of course, Villanova couldn’t lose. The battle lasted until the end, with Jenkins scoring the unforgettable winner to lead the Wildcats to a 35-5 record and impede North Carolina from winning a sixth national title. Jenkins delivered a spectacular ending, one that will be arguably go down as the greatest of all time, with a heart-stopping play we will never forget.

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