Past results do not guarantee future performance, the SEC forces funds to tell investors. It’s good advice. But in a final two games in which Villanova shot an unreal 63-of-97 from the field, if it came down to one shot—if it came down to Kris Jenkins with an open look—the Wildcats had to feel pretty good about a national championship from the moment the ball left Jenkins’s fingertips.
“When I get it,” Jenkins said, “it’s going up. I always think it’s going in and this was no different.”
The play was an old saw. Nova’s standard end-of-game call, Jay Wright was comfortable in revealing because there are no more games to play. Nothing too tricky, not too many moving parts. So straightforward that the play is named, merely, “Nova.”
The only key was an intense trust in Ryan Arcidiacono to make the right choice. “Put the ball in Arch’s hands,” Wright described the playcall, and let him make the decision.”
Jenkins inbounded the ball, and the Tar Heels, not playing man-to-man, promptly forgot about him. Arcidiacono went around a screen from Daniel Ochefu, and that screen mattered. It mattered in retrospect, obviously, but Ochefu knew its importance already. Coming out of the last time out, Ochefu inspected the spot on the court where he knew he would plant himself. It was sweaty and slick and the boy mopping it up wasn’t getting it all. Ochefu grabbed the mop from the kid and dried the floor his damn self.
“I knew exactly where I had to set the screen,” Ochefu said. “I didn’t want to slip. I didn’t want Arch to slip...So I was like, make sure the floor is dry.”
No one slipped. UNC’s Joel Berry hadn’t quite gotten turned around from Arcidiacono’s gentle crossover, and stumbled over Ochefu’s feet just enough so that he didn’t have any choice but to let his momentum keep him on Arcidiacono. Arcidiacono came up with two men on him and three back inside the arc, cutting off any attempt to drive the basket. Jenkins, the trailer, had been completely ignored, and was calling the ballhandler’s name to let him know. “Arch! Arch!” But he never expected to actually get the ball.
“He’s a senior with the game on the line; that’s supposed to be his shot,” Jenkins said. “But he passed it to me.”
A simple choice in a vacuum; Jenkins was open and Arcidiacono wasn’t. But it can be a lot to ask a college kid to make the right call with the ball in his hands and a life-making moment in the offing. Arcidiacono got it right.
“Kris told me he’d be open,” Arcidiacono said, and Jenkins was, and though North Carolina completely failed to mark him, he had one last bit of help. After dropping off the ball, Arcidiacono ran a little brush screen—no contact, just a body in between Jenkins and the closest defenders, making sure that there’d be no hand in the shooter’s face.
It was the first buzzer-beater to win an NCAA title game since Lorenzo Charles’s dunk in 1983, and since that was a dunk, this was an absolute first: the first time a ball was in the air, the backboard lit, a championship dependent on where it lands. So many times this spring, so many times this weekend, it felt like Villanova could not miss. That was not true, of course. They could miss, and did, and Jenkins could have missed here. But a relatively simple play, executed to perfection by all parties involved, gave the Wildcats the best possible chance for a bucket. Sometimes an entire season comes down to one shot. Sometimes that shot feels inevitable.