Entries in Villanova (5)


The Eagles and Villanova — Philly laughs last

By Art Spander

SAN ANTONIO — Those Philly jokes, how the fans once booed Santa Claus before a football game, all the zingers by the comedians who had a reference about brotherly love? Well, look who’s laughing now. And cheering.

First the Eagles win the Super Bowl. Then Villanova wins the NCAA basketball championship. Any day now, the Phillies could win the World Series. Well, let’s not get carried away.

But Villanova certainly carried the title away, for the second time in three years, destroying what we believed to be a solid Michigan team, 79-62, on Monday night at the Alamodome.

The Wildcats had Michigan coach John Beilein sighing, “We didn’t make some shots we usually make ... We needed to play better, but even if we played our best it would have been difficult to win that game with what DiVincenzo did.”

That’s Donte DiVincenzo, who had 31 for Nova.

A little honesty there. A little candor. A lot of awe.

Villanova won all six of its tournament games by at least 10 points. The semi-little Catholic school (enrollment around 10,000) could be building a dynasty.

No seniors in the lineup, although both Jalen Brunson, the AP national player of the year, and Mikal Bridges will probably leave for the NBA. No one-and-dones. Just a lot of talented kids who were brought in by coach Jay Wright and allowed to develop.

Not that they don’t arrive ready to play. DiVincenzo, voted most outstanding player in the final, is a red-shirt sophomore. He got 19 of his 31 in the first half.

Scoring is what the Wildcats do. They led the country in that stat. 

They also lead the country in what matters most, winning the big one.

But what made the difference Monday night was the way Villanova played defense. Michigan jumped into a 21-14 lead midway through the first half. Nova was missing the threes it made in the semifinal against Kansas. But soon after, it wouldn’t miss the chance to dominate the game.

By halftime, Nova was up 37-28 and shooting 45 percent. Then they started connecting. Then the result became foregone. Villanova went ahead by 22. Cue up “One Shining Moment.”

The 31 by DiVincenzo, who entered with some two and a half minutes gone, were the most ever in a title game by a non-starter.

“All I was trying to do was play hard,” said DiVicenzo, who is from Delaware, near Philly.

Such humility. ”He’s a killer,” said Bridges. “He came out there and was aggressive, defensively and offensively. He carried us tonight.”

And he has two more years of eligibility.

“They saw a championship team two years ago,” said Beilein, referring to when Nova beat North Carolina in the last second of the 2016 final. “They said, let’s work and get better. So many young men are in a hurry to get out of the best years of their life. I like the way Jay Wright recruits, getting kids with the right values.”

That’s fine. But they also need the right skills. The Nova athletes certainly have them.

“Anytime you get in a rhythm like that,” Michigan’s Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said of DiVincenzo, “you can pull up from anywhere and just knock it down. It’s tougth to stop.”

Basketball is getting people who know how to play to improve as the days and months go on; to feel confident and comfortable with your teammates and yourself. Villanova has achieved all of that.

“Villanova,” said Beilein, “has done a great job of getting the right kids. And we try as well. When you look at the whole package, they have it, experience, rare in college basketball, shooters at every position and defenders.

“That team right there could win a lot of Final Fours, not just one in 2018.”



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.


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.


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.


RealClearSports: Washington and the West Gain Respect

By Art Spander

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.

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