One For the Ages

It's the morning after the national title game. Honestly, I'm still at a loss for words.

This tournament has been wildly entertaining, incredibly unpredictable and a whole lot of fun. Before last night, even after Villanova and North Carolina won in blowouts to get to the title game, I had this season's tournament ranked among the best I'd seen.

How could it not be? We had brackets shredded thanks to Middle Tennessee knocking off Denzel Valentine and Michigan State. We had wins not only by the 15 seed, but by the 14 and 13, as well. We saw the typical 12-5 upset and were rewarded with three 11-seeds taking down their favored sixth seed opponents. Chalk lost and lost badly this year.

Just as it seemed as buzzer beaters were becoming a lost art in March Madness, this year made up for previous years and then some. We had Wisconsin's cold-blooded three to knock off Xavier. We had Notre Dame's last second tip and Little Rock's deep toss to go to overtime and eventually take down Purdue. Of course, we had Northern Iowa's Paul Jespersen, echoing the memories of Arkansas's U.S. Reed, hitting a half court shot to knock out Texas.

Then, we had that same UNI team blow a double digit lead with 44 seconds to go and fall to Texas A&M in the very next round.

You can't write this stuff if you tried. That's the beauty of this tournament and of sports itself. No script, no play, no movie can mirror the drama, the highs and lows and unpredictable moments that leave your jaw dropped and your mind racing for adjectives as three epic weeks in late March and early April can.

And then, through all of what we saw, there was last night.

The game wasn't pretty. It was a physical slugfest of a game where nothing came easy. The first half belonged to a talented Carolina squad that seemed to rattle what had been a vaunted Villanova defense this entire tournament. The Heels went up five at the half. In some ways, it seemed as if the lead was a bit larger. Villanova wasn't out of it, but Carolina seemed to be in control.

Then, Villanova found it's offensive groove. It settled down on defense. And, in doing so, the Wildcats slowly begin to take control of the game. Ryan Archidiacono proved to be the floor general that people expected him to be. Josh Hart was a warrior; a guard who dove into the fray with reckless abandon, grabbing 15 boards to help snuff second chances for the Tar Heels. Phil Booth picked a beautiful time to have the game of his life, electrifying the Wildcat offensive attack and helping Villanova gain its biggest lead with just over five minutes to play.

Carolina showed its championship mettle shortly after. While I was a little surprised that Williams didn't go deeper in his bench, enough can't be said for how Marcus Paige tried to bring a sixth title to Chapel Hill. Paige threw his guts on the floor last night, frustrating Villanova on defense and leading the Tar Heels offensively. Joel Berry II was brilliant as well offensively for Carolina, who clawed back to within one with just 60 seconds to play.

Paige's shot, a double clutch miracle from way behind the arc, signaled that, after all the blood, sweat, tears and punches, this might be Carolina's night. Paige said afterwards that he told his team, during the final timeout, that they had 4.7 seconds to defend and the title was theirs. Given the momentum shift, had this gone to overtime, it's likely Paige and the Tar Heels would have prevailed.

But Kris Jenkins and Villanova had different ideas.

Jay Wright has his team practice for situations like this. They practice free throws in the last minute; in which Villanova calmly made their attempts. And they practice setups for last second shots, which they executed to perfection. The shot by Jenkins was, in a sense, lucky for its timing. It wasn't for it's preparation.

And so, in a battle royale in which both sides traded shot after shot, Nova had one last punch.

It was a game to remember and a tournament we'll never forget. They play "One Shining Moment" each season after the national title. This year, Villanova delivered on it.

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