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9:55PM

Kris Jenkins ends the college basketball season with a bang

By Art Spander

HOUSTON — Did he know? Did Kris Jenkins know when that ball left his hands, the ball that would sail through the rim and into the net with 0:00 on the clock, would win a national championship for Villanova and leave a North Carolina team in disbelief and tears?

“When you let it go ... ” asked Jim Nantz, holding a microphone. There was a pause.

“I knew it was good,” said Jenkins.

And so it was, a three-pointer that would give Villanova a 77-74 victory over the favored Tar Heels and an NCAA championship.

You want drama? This game at NRG Stadium had it. You want elation? This game had it. For Villanova. You want dejection? This game also had it — for Carolina, the school with a great basketball history, the school of Michael Jordan, who was in the stands.

What a wild, wonderful conclusion to the college basketball season of 2015–16, a season that some called mediocre because there wasn’t a dominant team, as Kentucky had been a year earlier, and because the tournament was a swarm of confusions — right until the final ticks of the clock.

Two days earlier, the semifinals had been boring, one-sided, Villanova setting a record by beating Oklahoma by 44 points and North Carolina sweeping past Syracuse by 17. See, said the basketball junkies, we told you. A bad season topped off by a bad tournament.

But just like that on Monday evening — dare we use the phrase “one shining moment"? — the whole basketball season bounced as no one foresaw, and the title turned into a memory that will be cherished by Villanova — winning its second championship — and despised by Carolina, which was unable to win its sixth.

Villanova led by three, when after a scramble and an attempt to pass, Carolina’s Marcus Paige hit an off-balance jumper to tie the game, 74-74, with 4.7 seconds to play. Surely, this was going to go on for a while.

“We play defense, the game goes into overtime and it’s ours," said Paige. "(But) it didn’t work out. Kris is one of the best three-point shooters.”

Jenkins, a junior, had four fouls and had been on the bench (he played just 21 of the 40 minutes), but he wasn’t flustered as time ran out.

“I think every shot is going in,” he said. “So that one was no different.”

Except it meant a championship for Villanova and heartbreak for North Carolina, which had trailed 67-57 with 5:29 left and then rallied. Only to lose.

“This is a difficult time period as a coach,” said Carolina’s Roy Williams, who was trying for a third title. “You fought so hard throughout the course of the season to have a chance to win a national championship.

“We couldn’t get the ball to go in the basket in the second half. We shot 34 percent. They shot 58 percent.”

One reason may be a Villanova defense that is everywhere and turns the other team’s misses into its own baskets.

Villanova coach Jay Wright was more bewildered than joyful at game’s end. He had a sour look, as if he had bit into a lemon.

“I can’t wait to see that look,” said Wright after his first championship. “Because I was just shocked. We have an end-of-the-game situation play. We put it in (Ryan) Arcidiacono’s hands. He made the perfect pass. And Kris Jenkins lives for that moment.”

That moment is one that made the season for college basketball — and for the Villanova Wildcats.

9:22PM

Bleacher Report: Horrific Accidents Driving Reserve Coleman to Inspire Tar Heels

By Art Spander
Senior Analyst

HOUSTON — He probably won’t get on court for North Carolina in what will be his final college game. You could look at the career of Justin Coleman, a perennial backup guard for the Tar Heels, and say it hasn’t been very impressive. Except for one thing: It’s impressive he even had a career.

When he was in high school, playing AAU ball, May 11, 2010, Coleman was tripped and fell into a wall, incurring a broken neck. Doctors said he never would play again. But play he did.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2016 Bleacher Report, Inc. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

10:03PM

Nova defense stops Oklahoma sooner and later

By Art Spander

HOUSTON — It’s a team game. Sure, that’s the cliché of basketball, but it’s also the reality. Another reaffirmation came Saturday night in the Final Four.

Oklahoma had the Player of the Year, Buddy Hield. The man scores from everywhere. Or, as in the semifinal against Villanova, from nowhere. Hield did hit a three-pointer in the opening half-minute, giving everyone the impression he and the Sooners were on their way.

To oblivion, it turned out.

Villanova, shooting 77 percent in the second half, 17 of 22 from the field, and 71 percent for the game, got Oklahoma sooner and later, winning 95-51.

“I thought they popped us there in the first half, and we didn’t respond very well to that,” said OU coach Lon Kruger. “We came out with a little better fight to start the second half. Villanova withstood that, then popped us again.”

And hard. But that’s nothing new for Villanova, the school in the tony suburbs of Philadelphia’s Main Line. It was virtually a repeat performance for Nova, using the term loosely, unlike the defense Villanova plays. No looseness there.

Thirty-one years ago, 1985, in the NCAA final, the Wildcats made 17 of 28 shots, nine of 10 in the second half, and upset Georgetown.

In this final, Monday against North Carolina, which defeated Syracuse in the other semi, Nova also will be an underdog. That might mean something. Or mean zilch.

“They made shots, and we didn’t,” said Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins, and could a result be described more simply than that?

“Everything just fell apart, even when we got stops.”

What stopped was Oklahoma’s intensity. They’d miss — the Sooners shot a pathetic 31 percent, 19 of 60, and Hield had nine points, one of eight on threes — and then Villanova would sweep down the court. It was a classic example of what coaches have been teaching forever: defense sets up the offense.

“We were just trying to find a rhythm how to stop them,” said Hield. “I feel early in the second half we got a rhythm. After that, missed a rebound, (Josh) Hart got it up, got a three-point play, momentum went back their way. They played really well today. One of the best teams I ever played in college.

“They made it tough on me, throwing a bunch of bodies at me. Just couldn’t get it going.”

Brilliant strategy by Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose Cats are now 34-5. Brilliant execution from the “bodies,” particularly Hart, Kris Jenkins and Ryan Arcidiacono.

Hield is from the Bahamas, a senior who chose to stay four years in the hope of winning an NCAA championship. That can never be, but at least he made it to the sport’s last weekend. Now he’ll end up with on the NBA’s last-place teams, perhaps the awful 76ers. The Philly nightmare may continue, if in a different way.

“Villanova dictated everything,” said Kruger, the OU coach. “They were up into us the first half. We didn’t rip it strong and attack. We were playing laterally instead of downhill.”

Instead of going to the basket, but how can you go when there are defenders everywhere you look?

Asked if he’d ever seen a game like this, Kruger philosophized. “Oh, it’s happened, I’m sure,” he said, “but I don’t like being a part of it ... You’d like to think you can stand up and change that. We weren’t able to.”

Villanova was prepared, yet preparation doesn’t always mean success. Every time the Golden State Warriors play, the other team is prepared to stop Stephen Curry. But it’s rare when the plans work. They definitely worked for Villanova against Hield, who had averaged 29 points in the four tournament games leading to the semi.

“We were watching film on how good Buddy is,” said Arcidiacono, “We knew he would take and make tough shots. We tried to keep fresh bodies on him, tried to make him take tough, contested shots. If just happened he didn’t make them tonight.”

It just happened that Villanova, with Hart scoring 23 points, on 10 of 12, did make them.

“I’m happy,” said Wright, the Nova coach, “we had one of those games where we just make every shot. Kind of similar to our (December) game in Hawaii against Oklahoma. They made everything, we made nothing.”

There was difference, a huge difference. This one was to make the national finals.

11:43PM

RealClearSports: Washington and the West Gain Respect

By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com


SAN JOSE, Calif. -- We're all witnesses. Lorenzo Romar said that. After his Washington team upset New Mexico. After he heard Northern Iowa upset Kansas.

After he reminded us in this lunacy of a college basketball tournament "anyone can beat anyone.''

Read the full story here.

© RealClearSports 2010