Villanova Wildcats

Reuben Frank's 10 memories of Villanova's 2016 NCAA championship

Reuben Frank's 10 memories of Villanova's 2016 NCAA championship

I've been doing this for more than 30 years and never lost my composure. Never came close.

I was there when Joe Montana drove the 49ers the length of the field in the final seconds at Joe Robbie Stadium to beat the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII.

I was there when Eric Allen ran circles around the Jets for 91 yards on the greatest interception return in NFL history.

I was there when Mitch Williams struck out Bill Pecota to give the Phillies the 1993 pennant.

I was there when Freddie Mitchell caught 4th-and-26 and when Chad Lewis' second TD of the day sent the Eagles to the Super Bowl and when Randall Cunningham threw that impossible touchdown pass to Jimmie Giles while suspended horizontally in midair.

Never showed any emotion because that's what journalists are supposed to do. Sit stone-faced while these unforgettable incredible moments are unfolding around us.

Then Kris Jenkins hit that shot and three decades of composure went out the window.

I stood up and put my hands on the side of my head and looked over at Mike Kern from the Daily News, who was next to me courtside at NRG Stadium in Houston, and screamed something to the effect of, "OHHHHHHHGGGGHHHHHHHGHGHGHGHGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!"

Ethics be damned. This just happened a few feet away from me, and you'd have to be a corpse to not react emotionally.

It's a year ago today since Villanova beat North Carolina, 77-74, to win the national championship, and I don't think a day goes by without me either thinking about Jenkins' game-winning shot or somebody reminding me of it or video just popping up on Twitter or Facebook.

So as the 2017 basketball season disappears into our rearview mirror, I thought I'd share 10 memories of April 4, 2016, the day that made me scream on the job.

1. What's amazing about that day is that it began at a downtown Houston hotel, where Allen Iverson learned he had been voted into the NBA Hall of Fame. Iverson has always been my favorite Philadelphia athlete, and you know how emotional he gets. I sat at a table with A.I. and a few other writers for an hour while he regaled us with stories and spoke about the highs and lows of his life and his career. It was very deep and very powerful and I remember thinking there was no way any basketball game could live up to this. There was no way any basketball game could be as emotional as sitting there with Allen Iverson listening to him talk in depth about his decline and resurrection. I was wrong. Oh yeah, I was totally wrong.

2. When I arrived at NRG Stadium a few hours later, I was shocked to see I was assigned a seat in the second row right at midcourt. I have no idea what I did to deserve a spot that -- with the elevated court -- may have been the single best seat in the entire stadium. The view was tremendous. I remember backing up and deleting all the photos in my phone because I knew I was going to be taking a lot of pictures. Good move right there.


3. There were thousands of North Carolina fans directly behind me, and they were going bonkers when the Tar Heels went on a 25-13 run to turn a 19-14 deficit halfway through the first half into a 39-32 lead a minute before halftime. UNC was up seven with the ball with under a minute left and I remember thinking this is a really crucial point for the Wildcats. If UNC goes up nine or 10 going into halftime, that's going to be tough to overcome. North Carolina had all the momentum. But Josh Hart blocked a Justin Jackson shot with 10 seconds left and Phil Booth ended the half with a jumper to cut the lead to five. I remember thinking how big that shot was. Still within striking distance.

4. With Ryan Arcidiacono, Jenkins, Booth and Hart all hitting big shot after big shot, the Wildcats built a 10-point lead with just five minutes left, and I thought to myself, "It's over." The Wildcats had been demolishing teams throughout their run. That team had such a killer instinct and I thought to myself, "This is where they turn this thing into a 15-point game." But the Tar Heels battled back. It was 67-57 'Nova with 4:42 left, but another UNC run -- this one 12-3 -- made it a one-point game at 70-69 Wildcats with half a minute left. Booth then made two free throws to give him 20 points and give Villanova a three-point lead, and I remember thinking, 'Man, Phil Booth, a guy averaging 6.7 points, a guy who didn't score more than 11 points in a Big East game, a guy who doesn't even start, is going to be the story of the National Championship Game.' Booth was huge, but as it turned out, he wasn't quite the story of the game.

5. Then there was Marcus Paige's shot, and that was the first time that night I just felt like I was watching history being made. It was the biggest situation of Paige's life, he found himself in an impossible position -- in mid-air, actually about to start falling back down toward the court as Arcidiacono flew by him with his arms outstretched. Paige sort of scissored his legs like a long jumper in mid-air, and heaved the ball toward the basket. Of course, it dropped right in to tie the game with five seconds left. If it hadn't been for what came next, it would have been remembered as one of the greatest shots in college basketball history.  

6. I said to Kern, "Plenty of time left," and I noticed that there was no panic among the Villanova players, even though their double-digit lead had just evaporated. It was Jenkins who turned to the ref as soon as Paige's shot went through the basket and immediately called timeout. I watched the Villanova players as they walked over to the bench. Nobody was hanging their heads. Nobody looked upset. No signs of panic. They just went into the huddle and figured out what to do next.

7. It was Jenkins that in-bounded to Arcidiacono under the UNC basket. There were 4.7 seconds on the scoreboard. I remember thinking there wasn't anybody on Earth I'd rather have with the basketball in his hands in that situation than Arcidiacono. He had been shooting so well in the tournament that if he wound up with the final shot, I liked his chances. But he's also such an unselfish player I knew that if somebody else had a cleaner look, they were getting the ball. Joel Berry picked up Arcidiacono full-court, and Arch actually made a sweet crossover move while still in the backcourt to gain some space to work as he crossed halfcourt.

Jenkins? He was trailing the play to Arch's right and he started raising his hand calling for the ball as he hit midcourt. What was most striking was just how decisive Villanova was running that play. There was no hesitation. They just ran the play like they had run it a thousand times at practice. Arch sort of underhand-scooped the ball to Jenkins and then ran in front of him, which was weird. Two things that stick out about the shot itself. He was really deep. Jenkins was at least four feet behind the three-point line, so this was about a 24-footer. And the other thing is that Isaiah Hicks, UNC's rangy 6-9 forward, came out of nowhere to really get a hand up in Jenkins' face, forcing him to arc the shot pretty high. I looked up at the scoreboard and clearly saw 0.2 as the ball was in flight. Good if it goes.

8. I just remember fixing my eyes on Jenkins, who stood motionless watching his shot splash through the rim. Booth and Hart were the first to jump on him and then bedlam. I was supposed to file a story as soon as the game ended, but I just kept taking pictures. Then an amazing thing happened. Jenkins for some reason ran right in front of me. Like eight feet away. Daniel Ochefu was embracing him and Jenkins was holding his arms up in the air soaking in the moment as most of the 74,000 people at NRG Stadium roared their approval. I remember thinking, 'I can always send my story 10 minutes late. I'll never be able to take these pictures again.' I took about 100 pictures in the next five minutes and tweeted out a bunch as the celebration unfolded in front of me. I still didn't believe what I just saw. I still don't. 

9. I ran back to my laptop and filed my early story, then ran over to a riser they had built on the court where the Villanova players and assistant coaches were gathering to watch the annual One Shining Moment video recapping the entire tournament and finishing with the ending we had all just watched. Naturally, I started taking pictures again. And that is the moment -- when I saw Arcidiacono in tears with his hands holding his head -- that it hit me. That it really hit me. Villanova had just won the national title on a 24-foot, buzzer-beating three-pointer by Jenkins. It was overwhelming. I know as media we're supposed to keep emotion out of the equation, but we're also human. Seeing those kids up on that stage watching highlights of their historic tournament run and the sheer joy in their faces ... that was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.


10. Postgame was a blur. But what I remember clearest is this: Jenkins sitting in his locker, answering questions, clutching the trophy with his eyes closed. He wouldn't let go. I remember losing the AC charger for my MacBook Air and finding it at 2 a.m. on the floor back where my press box seat used to be (the tables were already gone). I remember doing a TV hit with John Clark outside NRG Stadium. I remember getting back to the hotel at 3:30 a.m., packing my bag and running to the airport to catch a 6 a.m. flight. I remember sitting in a coffee shop in Bucks County soaking it all in late Tuesday morning and somebody coming up to me and asking if I had a chance to see the Villanova game the night before. Yeah, I did catch it. More accurately, it caught me.

How Sweet it is — 'Nova crushes Alabama

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How Sweet it is — 'Nova crushes Alabama


PITTSBURGH — Mikal Bridges hit five 3s, scored 23 points and helped No. 1 seed Villanova put the field on notice that it's the team to beat with an 81-58 win over ninth-seeded Alabama on Saturday.

The Wildcats (32-4) are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since they won the 2016 national championship. Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth -- and yes, The Big Ragu -- look every bit the favorite to make it two in three years.

Villanova plays Friday in Boston against the Marshall-West Virginia winner.

The sport is still buzzing from top-seeded Virginia's 20-point loss to 16th-seeded UMBC on Friday night.

Alabama (20-16) failed to make it two No. 1s KO'd in less than 24 hours.

After a tense first half in a round that has given the program fits, the Wildcats hit their first six 3s in the second and put on a thrashing up there among the most dominant under coach Jay Wright.

Bridges, who averaged 17.9 points and played his way into a likely NBA draft lottery pick, scored 1 point and missed all five shots in the first half. He found his groove once the second half tipped. Bridges scored the first 5 points of the half and then finished a thunderous alley-oop on a pass from Booth that made it 41-27 and sent the Wildcats wildly waving their arms in celebration headed into a timeout.

Bridges hit his first three 3s in succession to cap an 18-1 run and a Sweet 16 berth was in sight.

Brunson added a 3 to make it 56-31 and the rest of the half was simply a countdown to Boston. Villanova made 17 of 41 3s.

The Wildcats lost in the first weekend as a 1 or 2 seed in 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2017.

Villanova got a brief scare that it might add `18 to the list against Alabama.

The Wildcats live-and-die by the 3-pointer -- they say, "shoot em' up and sleep in the streets" -- and when it's on, look out. The Wildcats are as dangerous as any team in the nation.

When it's off, well, that's how they're so upset-prone in March. They missed eight of their first 11 3s in the first half and Alabama briefly grabbed the lead.

Donte DiVincenzo steadied Villanova with three straight 3s that brought a gasp from the crowd and gave the Wildcats a 22-15 lead. He threw in a fastbreak layup off his own steal and hit his fifth 3 of the half to make it 32-27.

DiVincenzo -- the redheaded guard nicknamed "The Big Ragu" -- scored all 18 of his points in the half. Villanova attempted 20 3s (made seven) out of 27 shots.

Villanova romps past Radford in 1st round of NCAA Tournament

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Villanova romps past Radford in 1st round of NCAA Tournament


PITTSBURGH — The fear naturally seeps into the thinking of players on top-seeded teams in the NCAA Tournament. Could we be the ones that finally lose to a 16 seed?

"I can't say it doesn't cross our mind at all," Big East player of the year Jalen Brunson said.

The answer from Villanova was an emphatic one: not a chance.

Brunson scored 16 points and No. 1 seed Villanova hit 14 3-pointers in an 87-61 romp over Radford in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night.

The Highlanders (23-13) posed no threat at becoming the first 16 seed to ever knock off a No. 1 in the tournament.

Villanova (31-4) played to near-perfection for the first 30 minutes and everyone played a role. Mikal Bridges had 13 points, Eric Paschall scored 11 and Omari Spellman had 10 points and seven rebounds.

The Wildcats play on Saturday against the winner of Virginia Tech-Alabama.

Radford, out of rural southwest Virginia, must have felt like it was playing against ace pop-a-shot players. Villanova led 69-37 with 11:45 left and was shooting 75 percent (25 of 34) overall and 60 percent (12 of 20) from 3-point range.

The Wildcats turned an NCAA Tournament game into a glorified scrimmage.

Villanova coach Jay Wright was a bit wary of what could happen when he watched Penn give No. 1 seed Kansas a brief scare earlier in the day.

"We're watching Penn, because my daughter goes to Penn. My wife's rooting like crazy for Penn," he said. "I said, `You're rooting for Penn. If that happens, my boy, (KU coach) Bill Self, will be dying.' But you do, you think about it. What you have to do when you're the 1 (seed) is do everything to fight off that distraction."

Radford's Christian Bradford opened the game with a 3-pointer and the bench erupted.

The players should hope someone snapped a photo of the scoreboard as a souvenir for the one time the Highlanders led Villanova in this game.

The rest of the half was pure dominance by the Wildcats.

At one point, Brunson had 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Radford? Just 10 points on 4 of 20 from the floor.

Villanova started the game shooting 13 of 16. For those who struggle with math, that's a crisp 81 percent.

Phil Booth, Bridges, Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo all hit 3s in succession to blow open the game. Even when the Wildcats put the ball on the floor, they embarrassed Radford — Collin Gillespie juked guard Donald Hicks about out of his sneakers and the Highlander fell right on his behind.

Hicks led Radford with 13 points.

"They are a No. 1 seed for a reason. But this team right here is special," Bradford said. "We're a championship team for a reason. We never thought in our mind that we couldn't come back."

Radford won a First Four game to advance to Pittsburgh. The Wildcats just won the Big East Tournament in New York. With more shooting performances like this one, they'll win much, much more in March.

Big picture
Radford: The Highlanders still had a successful season. They set a school record for wins and won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in program history. Radford was picked to finish seventh in the Big South preseason poll but earned the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. Carlik Jones and Ed Polite are freshmen and should keep the good times going next season.

Villanova: Will try to avoid another first-weekend upset. The Wildcats lost in the first weekend as a 1 or 2 in 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2017. They lost to NC State in the second round in 2015 in Pittsburgh in a game that spawned the birth of the sad Villanova band member nicknamed Piccolo Girl .

Time’s up
Paschall led the Wildcats with 29 minutes played. Wright pulled his starters and his top subs off the bench much earlier than usual to give them some needed rest. Brunson took a charge late in the game and, though Wright admired the guard's toughness, he wouldn't play much longer.

Totally Rad
Coach Mike Jones brought his team toward the Radford cheering section and waved and pointed toward the fans in appreciation.

"They didn't get a chance to cheer victory but at least they got a chance to cheer these young men," Jones said. "They got a great group of young men. Through the tournament, people got to learn a little bit more about them, but we got to be with them every day."

Up next
Radford goes home and the Wildcats try and knock off Virginia Tech (21-11) or Alabama (19-15) and advance again to the Sweet 16.