Armour: Villanova win vs. UNC will be remembered as best title game ever

Nancy Armour
Villanova Wildcats forward Daniel Ochefu (23) celebrates with the National Championship Trophy after beating the North Carolina Tar Heels in the championship game of the 2016 NCAA Men's Final Four at NRG Stadium.
Bob Donnan | USA TODAY Sports | Reuters

HOUSTON — This Villanova team couldn't match the perfect game.

It did the '85 squad even better: Its game against North Carolina, the last 90 seconds in particular, will be remembered as the best national championship ever.

Maybe the best in college basketball period.

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"I just think it was so exciting to watch, both teams making great plays," Jay Wright said, still trying to process Villanova's 77-74 victory Monday night on Kris Jenkins' 3 at the buzzer. "In a national championship game, to hit a shot at the buzzer, I mean, I haven't seen many better than that."

He's not alone.

Kris Jenkins #2 of the Villanova Wildcats shoots the game-winning three pointer to defeat the North Carolina Tar Heels 77-74 in the 2016 NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship game at NRG Stadium on April 4, 2016 in Houston, Texas.
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All season long, the knock was that there was no one great team. It took until the very end, but the show Villanova and North Carolina put on Monday night proved both were deserving of that title.

For the last minute and a half, the teams answered one big play with another. In the last five seconds, it was a high-stakes game of H-O-R-S-E, with only the E left to decide.

"We couldn't ask for a better way to go out," guard Phil Booth said. "This was better than a blowout any day of the week."

What had been a 10-point Villanova lead was down to 70-64 after a free throw by Josh Hart with 1:52 left. Marcus Paige's jumper was off, but North Carolina collected the rebound and Brice Johnson kicked it back out to Paige. He drilled a 3, and it was a 3-point ball game.

After a rare turnover at the other end by Ryan Arcidiacono, Johnson made a jumper and the lead was down to 1 with 1:06 left. After a timeout, North Carolina quickly fouled, and Phil Booth made both to make it 72-69 with 35 seconds left.

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North Carolina got the ball to — who else? — Paige, whose first effort at a layup wouldn't fall. He snagged the rebound and put it up again. This one was good, and Villanova's lead was now 1 with 22 seconds left.

After a pair of free throws by Hart, North Carolina got the ball back for what would be the decisive play. Make it, and the Tar Heels had overtime to hope for. Miss it and, well, you just can't think like that.

With the ball in Paige's hands again, Daniel Ochefu went for the steal. But instead of trying to drive by Villanova's big man, Paige pulled up and double-clutched another three.

Tie game.

And 4.7 seconds left.

"At that point, we believed we were going to win," Paige said. "We just needed 4.7 seconds of defense."

They got 4.6.

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Jenkins is the inbounder for Villanova, and he was watching North Carolina as he raced to catch up to the action.

Just as he expected, the Tar Heels had all but forgotten about him.

"The defenders usually follow the ball," Jenkins said. "They were going to try to take Arch away because he's hit big shots in his career. When they all followed the ball, I just knew if I got in his line of vision, he would find me."

More like get in Arcidiacono's ear.

As Arcidiacono brought the ball up, and the precious seconds ticked off, Jenkins screamed his point guard's name to let him know he was open.

"Arch! Arch! Arch!"

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"If I could get a shot, I was going to shoot it," Arcidiacono said. "But I heard someone screaming in the back of my head. It was Kris. I just gave it to him and he let it go with confidence."

Jenkins jokes — or maybe it's not a joke — that he thinks every shot he takes is going to go in. Sure enough, with the Villanova fans rising to their feet in time with Jenkins' rising arms, he took aim from near NBA range and fired.

Game over.

National champions.

As the Wildcats dogpiled on the court, no one was prouder than the guys sitting behind the bench, members of the 1985 squad who had come to Houston in hopes of seeing another Villanova team join their exalted ranks.

"It's a great honor to be in that class with the '85 team," said Arcidiacono, a Philly kid for whom Villanova's history may as well be family lore. "Just to know we'll be kind of in the same sentence is an honor."

One Villanova team played the perfect game. This one played the best.

Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.