HOUSTON — Years of learning how to play the “Wright Way” at Villanova crystallized in the final 4.7 seconds of the Wildcats’ 77-74 NCAA title victory over North Carolina Monday night at NRG Stadium. They didn’t play “The Perfect Game,” as their 1985 predecessors did to upset Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown, but when they had to have it, coach Jay Wright’s players executed what will go down in NCAA championship history as “The Perfect Play.”
Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beating three-pointer from about 25 feet out was the residue of design, the embodiment of everything Wright had taught his players. The ultimate test took shape moments after Tar Heels point guard Marcus Paige avoided a diving steal attempt by Nova center Daniel Ochefu and hit an off-balance three-pointer from well beyond the arc that swished to tie the game at 74.
The crowd of 74,340 loosed a deafening roar as Carolina fans celebrated. Wright called timeout, and the Villanova huddle was an island of calm. “Our biggest word we use in this program is ‘attitude,’ ” Ochefu said. “If something isn’t going right, we don’t hang our heads, just ‘attitude’ and next play.”
Wright said the play is one his team practices every day. It called for Jenkins to inbound to point guard Ryan Arcidiacono, who dribbles up the left side of the court and runs his defender toward a screen set by Ochefu before cutting to the middle. The first option is to take the shot himself, the second was to throw it to the deep right side where Josh Hart set a screen to free Phil Booth. The final option was Jenkins trailing the play.
“I didn’t have to say anything in the huddle,” Wright said. “We have a name for it. Just put everybody in their spots.”
As they returned to the floor, Ochefu saw the young boy mopping the sweat-soaked spot where he dove going for the steal was having difficulty, so he grabbed the mop and cleaned the mess himself. “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, make sure the floor is dry.”
When Jenkins got set to inbound the ball, he saw no defender on him and realized he could hustle upcourt to get into the play. “Defenders usually follow the ball,” Jenkins said. “They were going to try to take Arch away because he’s hit big shots in his career. When they all followed the ball, I just knew if I got in his line of vision, he would find me.”
Arcidiacono said his initial thought was to take the shot himself, but he heard Jenkins calling for the ball and knew he could step into the shot. “It’s not about me taking the right shot,” Arcidiacono said. “It’s about me making the right read.”
When they still were in the huddle listening to Wright go over the play, Ochefu said, “I looked to Arch, and I just mouthed, ‘Shoot it.’”
When Arcidiacono passed and Jenkins put the ball in the air, forward Darryl Reynolds said, “It was the longest time the ball was in the air. You knew it was good. It was like, ‘Go in already.’ ”
After it went through, Arcidiacono joined the pile of players on Jenkins and then found Ochefu, who had wanted him to shoot. “Arch came up to me and was like, ‘I had faith in my teammates. He was wide-open,’ ” Ochefu said. “The rest is history.”
Hart said Villanova’s ability to shake off the tying shot by Paige and then execute at the end “just speaks volumes to this program and all those involved . . . This game is going to go down for the ages.”