HOUSTON — Villanova’s upset of Georgetown for the 1985 NCAA title in what has come to be known as “The Perfect Game” took place long before anyone on the current team was born. Yet they have been surrounded by the aura of that long-ago team since they joined a program whose motto is: “We play for the ones who came before us.”
That “all-for-one” identity is what has carried the Wildcats (34-5) to Monday night’s national championship game against North Carolina (33-6), which was the preseason favorite to win it all. Coach Jay Wright has cultivated that mind-set as part of a defense that held Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, the nation’s leading scorer, to nine points in the semifinals and Kansas star Perry Ellis to four points in the South Regional final.
Point guard Ryan Arcidiacono noted that last year was the 30th anniversary of the 1985 title, so members of that team often were around campus. “We see the montages outside of our locker room,” Arcidiacono said of the images on the walls in the practice facility and inside their on-campus arena. “Hopefully, we can finish it out the way they did.”
Center Daniel Ochefu said several members of that 1985 team attended Saturday’s win. “Throughout the year, they’re texting us, wishing us luck, giving us advice, stuff like that,” Ochefu said. “It’s great to represent those guys in the way we’re doing it this year.”
Villanova is a 2 1⁄2-point underdog against a Carolina team that has won its tournament games by an average of 16.2 points and features a dominant front line led by All-American forward Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson. Senior point guard Marcus Paige heads an outstanding backcourt.
Unlike 1985, when no one gave the Wildcats a chance against a Georgetown team led by Patrick Ewing, the Wildcats opened some eyes in their 44-point thrashing of Oklahoma, a record margin in the history of the Final Four. Their .714 shooting percentage was second in Final Four history only to the .786 of Villanova’s 1985 champions, and they have won five tournament games by an average of 24.2 points.
So the Wildcats have every reason to believe they can upend North Carolina despite the Tar Heels’ pronounced size advantage.
“They shot 71 percent, but on the defensive end, they were able to stop [Oklahoma], especially one of the best players in the country,” Carolina guard Joel Berry II said.
Wright said the contrast in styles between North Carolina’s interior power and the Wildcats’ hot-shooting perimeter of Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins is dramatic.
“It’s going to be a battle of wills because they do some things we don’t,” Wright said. “We have perimeter play that’s a lot different than theirs. Obviously, we’re going to have to deal with their size, their length, their rebounding, their inside game. This is going to be a hell of a game.”
Reserve forward Darryl Reynolds said the Wildcats will defend Johnson as a team by covering for each other as they did against Ellis and Hield. Reynolds likened the approach to how the 1985 team played against Georgetown.
“They scrapped and clawed to win that game,” he said. “Then, to see the bond between those men that has lasted 31 years at this point. It’s beautiful.”
Hart describes that 1985 team as the ideal to which these Wildcats aspire.
“When you see them come back, they are just so well loved by everybody in the Villanova community,” Hart said. “If we’re able to win, to get that same reception from one of the best schools in the country would be an amazing experience. That’s something we definitely want and something we’ve got to focus on to go get.”
North Carolina and Villanova took different routes to Monday night’s championship game, but both have dominated. The Tar Heels have overpowered teams with their inside game, while the Wildcats’ perimeter shooters have been superb. Some key stats from their five NCAA Tournament games:
Avg. points in the paint advantage: 16.8
Avg. margin: 16.2
FG pct.: 58.2 (153-for-263)
3P FG pct.: 49.0 (48-for-98)
Avg. margin: 24.2