The most important play in Monday’s national championship game between Villanova and North Carolina occurred at the end of the second half.
But the second most important play? Well, that occurred at the end of the first half.
“That was huge,” Jay Wright said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “If you want to look at a series of plays other than the last two plays, that series was the most important. We had a poor offensive possession down seven, which led to a run-out by them. Josh Hart chases (Justin) Jackson, blocks his shot, we come down on the other end, have a poor offensive possession again and Phil Booth bails us out with a drive, jump-stop fadeaway and we go in down five after not playing well for us and being in foul trouble with Kris Jenkins. So it was a two-possession game. It really easily could have been (a nine-point deficit).”
Indeed, Villanova could have trailed 41-32 at halftime. Instead, it was 39-34, and the Wildcats had life. They had toughness. They had belief in each other.
That was all they needed.
“This team – the chemistry and the basketball intelligence of this team is really unique,” Wright said. “With 4.7 seconds, Daniel Ochefu is mopping up the floor. He takes the mop from the kid and I’m thinking to myself, ‘What the hell is he doing?’ You know what he said after the game in the press conference? He goes, ‘I knew that’s the spot that I had to set the screen for Arch (Ryan Arcidiacono).’ We played at the Big East Tournament and we ran the same play at the end of the game and Arch slipped, and that’s what he was thinking at that point in the game. Kris Jenkins said, ‘We ran that same play, and I noticed the last three times we ran it, when they didn’t put a guy on the ball, they never put anybody on me. So I told Arch, When you get over half-court, I’m going to be open,’ and he said, ‘I had to run fast enough to get in his vision.’ The intelligence of these guys was just off-the-charts.”
So was Wright’s heart rate after Jenkins hit the game-winning shot – even though his face didn’t show it. In fact, Wright looked like his team had just lost the national championship on a buzzer-beater, not won it.
“It’s not as cold-blooded as it seems,” Wright said, laughing, “but I have this habit. (For) those end-of-game shots, as a coach, the ball is in the air, you have no control of what’s going to happen. And when we shoot it, I always say, ‘Bang.’ And when the other team shoots it, I always say ‘No-expletive-way’ in my mind. I never thought my lips moved when I said that, and I’ve never been caught saying either one with my lips ever before. I don’t think my lips ever moved before, but that time it got caught.”
Wright, as it turned out, wasn’t completely certain the game was over. He knew Jenkins got the shot off in time, but he wasn’t sure if the refs would put any time back on the clock.
Roy Williams, meanwhile, knew the Tar Heels were toast.
“He shook my hand and hugged me,” Wright said. “He’s awesome. He said, ‘I’m disappointed for my guys, but I’m really happy for you. You deserve this.’ Right after he shook my hand, my assistants jumped on me. I never heard them say, ‘There’s no time left. The game’s over.’ The celebration just started.”