By MIKEY BARNES
There are a few moments in a lifetime where you look back and ask your friends “where were you when it happened?” In sports, these are the moments that captivate us and turn a simple game into something magical. These moments are rare and hard to come by, but when they do, lives are changed forever.
One of the best places to find one of these moments is in March Madness and the NCAA Tournaments, which came to a close on Monday night with No. 2 Villanova Wildcats claiming the title.
Villanova had quite the challenges ahead of them during their NCAA tournament run. Their opening round matchup came against the Big South Conference champion UNC Asheville Bulldogs. The Wildcats had little difficulties as they came away with a 30-point margin of victory, 86-56. As it usually does, the level of competition improved dramatically from the 15-seeded Bulldogs. In the Round of 32, Villanova took on the the No. 7 Iowa Hawkeyes. Similar to their first game of the tournament, the Bulldogs had little trouble taking care of business with a 19-point routing of the Hawkeyes 87-68. In the the Sweet Sixteen, the Wildcats were prepared for the greater competition.
As the wildcats were tearing apart their side of the bracket, the University of North Carolina Tar Heels were doing something quite similar, defeating Florida Gulf Coast and Providence by scores of 16 and 19 respectively. In the Sweet Sixteen, the Tar Heels took on the Yogi Ferrell led No. 5 Indiana Hoosiers. The Tar Heels came away victorious 101-86, proving to be the highest scoring game the Tar Heels had throughout the tournament. In the Elite Eight, UNC took on conference foe Notre Dame, who had been tearing things up in the first three games. North Carolina had little troubles as they came away victorious for the second out of three times against the Fighting Irish by a score of 88-74.
The Final Four had quite the opponents lined up. In one side of the bracket were the two-seeds, the Oklahoma Sooners and Villanova. On the other side of the bracket was UNC and the cinderella story, ACC team, the Syracuse Orange.
The often highly coveted and anticipated Final Four took place on April 2, at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. The opening game between the Wildcats and the Sooners was a no-contest match, as the Wildcats had their largest margin of victory with a 95-51 debacle of Player of the Year winner Buddy Hield and Oklahoma. The second game of the night had a lesser differential, though still quite the embarrassing defeat by the hands of North Carolina, 83-66.
The Wildcats and Tar Heels were ready to play on the biggest stages of their careers. As fans globally ran to the bars, locked themselves in front of televisions or those few unfortunate folks, stood by as they followed live streams of the National Championship game.
From the opening tip-off, Jay Wright and his Wildcats were ready to bring all they had to the National Championship familiar Roy Williams and the Tarheels. This championship game was the third for Williams, who was 2-0 prior and the first of Wright’s career.
The first half of the game was quite back and forth, as going into the break, Carolina had a five-point lead, 39-34. The two teams came out the break with similar mindsets and playing styles as the game continued to go back and forth, no team truly controlling play or tempo. As the clock winded down, Villanova had a three-point victory as the Tar Heels had what seemed to be a chance for a stroke of luck for Carolina in their more than likely final possession.
Senior and star player for the Tar Heels Marcus Paige clearly wanted the ball in his hands during these final seconds. As he dribbled the ball for the last second three-pointer, he was swarmed by two Wildcat defenders looking for the steal. In the process, Paige seemed to lose control of the ball, resulting in an awkward double-clutch shot, as a defender had a hand in his face. The ball left his hand and seemed to be an impossible heave, until the ball sailed through the net. The Tar Heel bench and crowd at NRG stadium lept to their feet as there was now a tie ball game with just five seconds remaining. Senior captain of the Wildcats Ryan Arcidiacono dribbled the ball to the three-point line, drawing two UNC defenders before tossing the ball back to teammate and fellow senior Kris Jenkins. The ball released from Jenkins hand with just enough time as it soared through the net, for three and the victory for the Villanova Wildcats.
The “good game” that the basketball fans globally seemed to ask for, sure received just that. It was the first National Champion victory for the Wildcats since 1985 and the first buzzer-beater victory for a program since 1983. As we look back on the history of the NCAA Tournament, 2016 will be one talked about for generations while perhaps our kids will one day ask us: “where were you when Jenkins beat the buzzer?”