LOS ANGELES, April 5, (AFP): The Villanova Wildcats clinched victory in US college basketball’s championship game on Monday after junior guard Kris Jenkins sunk a buzzer-beating three-pointer to seal a 77-74 win over North Carolina.
Jenkins’ thrilling late winner was the last act of a pulsating final which appeared to be heading to overtime after Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige hit a three-pointer to tie at 74 moments earlier.
Phil Booth top scored for Villanova with 20 points while Ryan Arcidiacono weighed in with 16. Game-winner Jenkins finished with 14 and Josh Hart 12. Arcidiacono later revealed that Jenkins’ winning play had been planned. “We knew what play we were going to at the end of the game, because we work on it every single day in practice,” Arcidiacono said.
“I wanted to be aggressive. If I could get a shot, I was going to shoot it. But I heard someone screaming in the back of my head. It was Kris. I just gave it to him, and he let it go with confidence.” Tar Heels star Paige meanwhile was his team’s standout with 21 points, six assists and five rebounds, just ahead of Joel Berry with 20 points.
“You know, just that feeling of walking off the court, feeling the confetti fall, but it’s not for you,” Berry said. “It’s a horrible feeling.” Jenkins’ winning three-pointer gave Villanova their first title since 1985. The Wildcats had started as firm favorites after cruising into the final with an average winning margin of 24 points per game.
North Carolina however, who stunned the Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday with a 91-51 semi-final rout, were in no mood to roll over. The Tar Heels wiped out a 10-point deficit in the final five minutes before Paige tied it up. Villanova had earlier fought back from a five-point deficit to move 46-44 ahead with 13:28 left in the second half. Paige tied it at 46-46 but Villanova pulled clear again to lead 53-46 with just under 10 minutes left. The prospect of overtime loomed after Paige tied it at 74-74 but Jenkins carved out an opening to sink the winning score and Villanova were home.