Villanova again! The greatest NCAA title game ending ever

Houston – Mike Lopresti, formerly of Gannett and USA Today and now of NCAA.com, and I took Uber to Hobby early this morning. Between us, we’d had 2 ½ hours of sleep. (All mine, I confess.) We were rehashing … well, guess.

(Here’s what I wrote a few hours ago, in case you missed it.)

Somewhere in the conversation, I used the phrase, “The first Villanova game” as a reference point — because there’s now a second. On April Fools Day 1985, Villanova made 78.6 percent of its shots to fell Georgetown in the NCAA championship game. That was a bigger upset and a better performance. (On Monday night, Nova made a mere 58.3 percent of its shots.) But it had nothing like this ending. No NCAA final has had an ending like this.

Michael Jordan’s shot against Georgetown was not at the buzzer. Keith Smart’s shot against Syracuse was not at the buzzer. Scotty Thurman’s trey over Duke’s Antonio Lang was not at the buzzer. Mario Chalmers’ 3 against Memphis was not at the buzzer and only tied the game. Gordon Hayward’s shot from midcourt, also against Duke, didn’t bank home. Kris Jenkins’ 3-pointer at 0:00 Monday was only the third game-winning buzzer basket in championship annals, and it was the first title-winning jumper at 0:00.

Villanova's Kris Jenkins (2) watches his game winning three point basket at the closing seconds of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game against North Carolina, Monday, April 4, 2016, in Houston. Villanova won 77-74. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Kris Jenkins beholds his winning basket. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Vic Rouse’s follow of Les Hunter’s miss – Loyola over Cincinnati, 1963 – was a layup. Lorenzo Charles’ dunk to beat Houston in 1983 was, duh, a dunk of Dereck Whittenburg’s air ball. This was a perfect jump shot off a perfect play. This was precision at the most frantic moment of any of these players’ young lives.

The Wildcats said afterward that they run that play – Jenkins inbounding to Ryan Arcidiacono, who gets a midcourt screen from Daniel Ochefu and then drives and either shoots or passes to Josh Hart or Phil Booth or, in Option 4, flips the ball back to the trailing Jenkins – every day in practice. But every coach will tell you that there’s a difference between running a play against walk-ons and doing it against North Carolina with a title in the balance.

What made this ending doubly stunning was that Carolina had just tied the game on the most outrageous shot of any championship game – Marcus Paige’s double-clutching, leg-splaying, sling-it-from-the-hip 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds remaining. In the huddle, Paige told his teammates that they were 4.7 seconds from a championship because there was no way they’d lose in overtime, and surely they wouldn’t have. But it never got to overtime.

I can recall only one NCAA tournament game having two such shots in the final five seconds, and that’s the game often described as the greatest ever – Duke over Kentucky in 1992. Sean Woods’ banker from the lane put the Wildcats ahead with 2.1 seconds remaining. Grant Hill threw long to Christian Laettner, who … well, you know what he did. But that, I should note, was the East Regional final; it wasn’t in a Final Four, let alone a championship game. As far as title games go, this ending was unprecedented.

Earlier in the day, the former Notre Dame publicist Roger Valdiserri had been inducted to the U.S. Basketball Writers Association’s Hall of Fame. Valdiserri told a little joke involving the linguist Noah Webster. The punchline was, “No, I am surprised – YOU are astonished.”

Those were the only two reactions to this finish. At Paige’s shot, we were surprised. At Jenkins’ winner, we were astonished. The First Villanova Game has a companion – the Second Villanova Game, which gave us the greatest Final Four ending ever.

Reader Comments 0

11 comments
Ficklefan
Ficklefan

I agree, because it ended with back to back, incredibly exciting and dramatic highly improbable three point shots, even though only one of them (and the much more difficult shot) was actually contested. 


At first, I was taken aback wondering if Bradley had ever seen the 1992 Duke Kentucky game. But, then recalled that it was the semi-final game. As far as games go, I am still waiting for a final, semi-final, quarter final, etc. as dramatic and exciting as that one was. 


The problem with this game is that Jenkins' shot was not really contested. Nor was the guard "Archdiocese" hindered or inhibited in any way by North Carolina. When that sequence began, I thought, Why aren't the NC guards pressuring them? Basically, Archdiocese did got the ball, did a full print dribble to the area between the half court line and the top of the circle, and then made the decision to pass the ball to a completely uncontested Jenkins, who had a terrific look, and as you noted, made a picture perfect shot. Some NC defender raised his arm and jumped jumped at him from about 5 or 6 feet away, but that was way too little too late. 


An NC defender should have tried to at least impair or inhibit a full sprint by Archiocese to half court, and someone should have been close enough to Jenkins, and every other Nova player to put up some kind of a defense. But, I didn't see any. They all seemed to be laying back - to prevent a lay up? I guess. 


When that play ended I recalled our article the day before about North Carolina and Roy Williams and whether he is actually a great coach. You quoted a long time NC fan who said about Williams, "He can't coach." I think Williams proved him right. 

Peachs
Peachs

They are not marketing college basketball correctly, when you have 70,000 plus in the house, and poor TV ratings.  I think, writers go through the motions and are shocked when they look up ,once a year, and see a real basketball game going on.  

Zino
Zino

after that choke in the title game, roy was so mad, he made his players take their own african studies exams this week!

DawgVoiceofReason
DawgVoiceofReason

I have to disagree Mark Bradley.  Your headline says "greatest title game ending ever", but that was definitely NC State vs. Houston.  You do make the case for greatest championship game-ending shot ever.

larietta
larietta

Enjoyable column Mr. B, I really enjoyed it!  Thanks.

LOGS1973
LOGS1973

Sounds like all of a sudden Bradley's likes college basketball!

Bradley hates it during the regular season, but can't stand not

to comment on the big game!!!

Peachs
Peachs

@LOGS1973 Or watch a game, that Kentucky is not ,somehow effected. 

CTATTER
CTATTER

The best college mens final ever has to be NC State upsetting heavily favored Georgetown.  I'll never forget Jim Valvano running around looking for someone to hug

phillunney
phillunney

@CTATTER I believe NC State beat Houston in 1983 (Phi Slamma Jamma) and Jimmy V did go around the court. The team that beat the heavily favored Georgetown was Villanova in 1985.

Gunnplay
Gunnplay

Great game - and one of your better columns.