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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

March Madness: Villanova feels the pain from early elimination

Head coach Jay Wright of the Villanova Wildcats

Head coach Jay Wright of the Villanova Wildcats walks off the court after being defeated by the Wisconsin Badgers 65-62 during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KeyBank Center on March 18, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Elsa / Getty Images


Kris Jenkins’ one shining moment will last forever. His three-pointer to beat the buzzer and win the 2016 NCAA championship will live in Villanova lore and in Big Dance highlight videos for as long as the tournament is played.

If only he could have had one little instant Saturday.

One simple bank shot, one measly layup at the right time could have made a world of difference and could have kept the Wildcats’ season alive. Instead, his shooting slump never did let up. He made only 2 of 9 shots and went 0-for-2 on three-pointers, and neither he nor any of his teammates had enough to lift Villanova over Wisconsin in the second round.

This is not to pin the 65-62 defeat on Jenkins, a good soul and solid player. It is just an example to all of us about how hard it is to win the national title even once, and how almost impossible it is to repeat.

Everything has to go just right for a team to prevail in March Madness, to be the school that gets to be in the happy final scene on the telecast as they play the song “One Shining Moment.” You’ve got to be really good — and just as lucky as good.

“We had a game like this against Kansas last year and we came out on the good side of it,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We had a game like this against NC State [in 2015] and we had a good shot to win and we missed it.

“To me, there’s no dishonor in losing in this tournament. But I do know — and we’ve lived through it — you are judged by how you play in the tournament, and that’s the reality of it. So you have to accept it.”

You accept the pain, especially after blowing a seven-point lead in the final five minutes, as the Wildcats did. You sit in a quiet locker room, trying to squeeze one last memory out of a few last minutes in uniform with your teammates.

The Big Dance is one tough grind, which is what makes winning it so amazing. After you’ve won it and then lost the next time, you realize how hard it was.

“I appreciate my entire career here, the guys I was here with,” Jenkins said as he sat at his corner stall in the locker room after his final college game. “You know, it’s tough. They’re a great team and we battled to the end. I’m proud of our team for that. We just had some bad breaks. We missed a couple shots, that’s all. They made plays. They made plays down the stretch.”

Villanova gets kudos for earning the No. 1 seed despite the heavy weight of expectation. Yet the loss occurred because of more than a bad bounce or a stirring effort by the other side. The Wildcats were not quite as good this March as they were last year. They weren’t as sharp. Any fan of the team had to be alarmed by a rocky game against Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament and a lethargic start against 16th-seeded Mount St. Mary’s.

They did not have enough offensive balance, not enough options down the stretch. The result was that the ball went to Josh Hart in two key possessions, and Wisconsin knew full well it was going to him. He did not get a shot off either time.

The Wildcats also did not have the magic stardust that lifted them past Kansas last year or guided Jenkins’ shot into the net against North Carolina in the title game.

“I’m always going to be with my brothers,” Hart said, referring to his teammates. “They’re my brothers for life, regardless of what happened this year. I guarantee I’m going to be close to them to the day I die.”

Wright said Hart, Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds “are three of the greatest Villanova basketball players of all time. Their class is going to go down as the most successful class in Villanova history.” Next spring, he will tell the holdovers and the new guys what he tells his players every year: “Every time you win and you get a chance to advance, cherish it.”

You might even have your one shining moment. Just know it sure is hard to earn a second one.


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