Reflecting on Villanova’s national championship
I could not help myself but have an unsettling feeling the moment Marcus Paige dropped a three-pointer from long distance off a double clutch to pull North Carolina even with Villanova with just under five seconds to play Monday night. Villanova had blown a 10-point lead that existed just about four minutes prior to that unbelievable shot from Paige, and the sequence of events was something that seemed right out of the script for Philadelphia sports as I have grown to know it.
It started when Villanova pushed their lead to three points following a pair of successful free throws on the other end with just 13 seconds to play, but Daniel Ochefu went for a steal as the ball was passed to Paige. Ochefu fell to the ground, leaving Paige free to create a largely uncontested shot. Paige found the shot but was forced to make an adjustment as Ryan Arciadiacono came in to challenge the shot before wisely holding up and letting Paige take the awkward shot. Of course, this time Paige dropped it.
After working their way back from a 10-point deficit, North Carolina had all of the momentum, seemingly, and just needed to prevent Villanova from scoring with a little more than four seconds left on the clock. After chipping away and putting the pressure on Villanova, North Carolina should have felt a bit confident heading into overtime, and maybe they would have won. It would have been another disappointing chapter in Philadelphia sports history.
Of course, Villanova isn’t a Philly school, right?
Kris Jenkins inbounded the ball to Arcidiacono, who ran up the court and tried to find room to create one final shot. Jenkins rushed up the court after getting the ball in and called for a pass from the senior Arciadiacono, who got it to the big man from beyond the arc. Again, a wise (and unselfish) move, and it paid off.
My sports fandom began in 1993 when I first developed an interest in the Philadelphia Phillies. That season ended in heartbreaking fashion for me as I experienced, for the first time, the agony of defeat as a sports fan. Joe Carter’s World Series-clinching home run off Mitch Williams was a punch to the stomach for me. It was a pain that would not truly be healed until 2008 when the Phillies returned to the World Series and took care of the Tampa Bay Rays in five games. By then I had experienced all of the local teams fail on the championship stage. The Philadelphia Flyers were swept by the Detroit Red Rings in the Stanley Cup Final. The Philadelphia 76ers were taken out in five against a clearly better Los Angeles Lakers squad. The Philadelphia Eagles came up short in the only Super Bowl I have seen them play, against the New England Patriots. I watched an undefeated Penn State team finish second in the major polls before the introduction of the BCS and College Football Playoff and have yet to see the Nittany Lions sniff that championship setting. The Phillies winning the World Series in 2008 let me know that sometimes good things can happen to the teams I follow.
Eight years later, Villanova reminded me of that fact and it could not have come at a better time as a Philly sports fan.
On the day the Phillies opened what should be a losing season (although one with plenty of young talent to watch grow up for some interest) and as the Sixers continue to flirt with one of the worst records in NBA history and as the Eagles inch closer to the first draft of the Doug Pederson era (one I have minimal interest in at this point), Villanova avoided falling into the typical Philadelphia failure story, which is something the basketball program was no stranger to under head coach Jay Wright. Not this time.