Villanova Wildcats

Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova storm past Michigan for national title

Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova storm past Michigan for national title

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SAN ANTONIO -- They chanted his name from the cheap seats: "Di-Vin-cen-zo, Di-Vin-cen-zo." By the time Donte DiVincenzo was done doing his damage, Villanova had another title and college basketball had its newest star.

The redhead kid with the nickname Big Ragu came off the bench to score 31 points Monday and lift `Nova to another blowout tournament victory -- this time 79-62 over Michigan for its second title in three seasons.

The sophomore guard had 12 points and an assist during a first-half run to help the Wildcats (36-4) pull ahead, then scored nine straight for Villanova midway through the second to put the game away. He capped it with a 3-pointer from a step behind the arc that he celebrated with a knowing wink over to TV announcers Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery on the sideline.

Villanova won all six games by double digits over this tournament run, joining Michigan State (2000), Duke (2001) and North Carolina (2009) in that rare air.

"I thought we played our best game in the championship game," coach Jay Wright said.

The last team to win its two Final Four games by 16 or more: UCLA in 1968. During the dynasty.

One key question: Does Wright's team belong on the list of the best of all-time?

Maybe so, considering the way Villanova dismantled everyone in front of it in a tournament that was dripping with upsets, underdogs and at least the appearance of parity.

Maybe so, considering the Wildcats won in seemingly every way imaginable. This victory came two nights after they set a Final Four record with 18 3-pointers, and one week after they relied more on defense in a win over Texas Tech in the Elite Eight.

That debate's for later.

DiVincenzo squashed any questions about this game with a 10-for-15 shooting night -- 5 for 7 from 3 --that was really better than that, making him an easy winner for most outstanding player in the Final Four.

With Michigan refusing to go away early in the second half, he opened his game-sealing run with an around-the-back dribble to get to the hoop and get fouled. On the other end, he delivered a two-handed rejection of Michigan's Charles Matthews -- his second block of the game -- when Matthews tried to bring it into the paint.

"Blocked shots, definitely," DiVincenzo said when asked if he enjoys 3s or rejections more. "I pride myself on defense and just bringing energy to the team."

The 3 that sealed it came from a big step behind the arc and gave Villanova a 62-44 lead with a bit less than 8 minutes left.

About the only drama left was whether DiVincenzo could unwrap himself from his teammates' mob hug to toss the ball underhanded toward the scoreboard after the buzzer. He succeeded there, too.

Mikal Bridges finished with 19 in what could be his final audition for the NBA. Player of the Year Jalen Brunson was celebrating despite an off night -- nine points and two rebounds. His struggles barely mattered.

What a couple months it's been for Philly. First the Eagles. Now this. The Super Bowl, though, was a classic. This one was only beautiful to one team.

Michigan (33-8) came out playing tough-nosed defense it relied on over a 14-game winning streak that got the Wolverines to their second final in six years.

Moe Wagner scored 11 early points to continue his great play in the Final Four. Villanova started 1 for 9 from 3-point range. And yet, after DiVincenzo banged down a 3 from a step behind the arc for Villanova's second of the night, coach John Beilein looked at the scoreboard and saw his team behind, 23-21.

"The way DiVincenzo shot the ball, it was just incredible for us to try to win that game with the roll he went on," Beilein said.

If his first 3 wasn't demoralizing enough, DiVincenzo made another, then took a bounce pass from Brunson for a dunk, then paid it forward with an assist to Omari Spellman. It was part of a 23-7 run that gave the Wildcats a nine-point lead at halftime; they never looked back.

For the record, DiVincenzo has no problem starting games on the bench.

He's been willing to do whatever's needed since he arrived in 2015. His season cut short because of a knee injury, he was healthy enough to run the scout squad for Villanova during its first title run. Some on the team said he did Oklahoma star Buddy Hield better than Hield.

But maybe a more apt comparison is to ... Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?

DiVincenzo joins them in the rare club of players to crack 30 points while also shooting better than 66 percent from the floor in a Final Four game.

Villanova's buzzer-beating win over Georgetown in 1999 was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

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Villanova's buzzer-beating win over Georgetown in 1999 was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

January 30th 1999.  I was a 15-year-old who wondered how the Phillies would build around Scott Rolen, marveled at Lindros and LeClair’s 40 goal seasons, happy to have Iverson back after a lockout and was suspicious about some guy named ‘Reid’ the Eagles just hired.  

In the midst of all this, my best bud, Ryan Bennett and his family, scored tickets to Villanova vs. Georgetown at the now Wells Fargo Center for a Saturday noon tipoff and they were kind enough to invite me along.  

I remember Ryan and I had a CYO High School basketball game that night in Lansdale at 7 p.m.

“No problem, plenty of time”, we thought. 

The Bennett’s picked me up at that morning and off we went to what would be the best game I ever saw... 

Our seats were in the upper level, 1st row, in a corner at the end Nova would be shooting at in the 2nd half.

Steve Lapas’ Wildcats opened with a 13-0 run on Craig Esherick’s Hoyas. Esherick had just taken over for the legend, John Thompson. 

Just as an aside. My friend and I kept thinking Esherick looked A LOT like Norm MacDonald as Burt Reynolds (aka Turd Ferguson) on SNL’s celebrity Jeopardy. You be the judge…

Anyway, back to basketball.  

In the 2nd half, the Wildcats built a 17-point lead only to see it wiped away with a 17-0 Hoyas run. Georgetown’s Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje’s lay-up tied the game at 67 with 2:30 left. RBB was a Cameroonian baller before it was trendy. 

I remember a slew of guys were in foul trouble. Including RBB and Malik Allen.

In the final :45 seconds, tied at 69-69, both Nova and G-town sent guys to the line to shoot two. Neither team hit a free throw. Missed all four.  

Nova had one final chance on an inbounds play with 11 seconds left in regulation. John Celestand got the ball, tried working for a shot, gave it up to Allen who shot and missed from the top of the key as time expired.  

1st OT

The Hoyas struck first with a three, then three players fouled out; the Hoyas’ RBB and Jaleel Watkins and Nova’s T.J. Caouette. Six players would end up fouling out of this game in total. 

With :11 seconds left and Nova down two, Brooks Sales hit two free throws to tie it at 78. Kevin Braswell, a freshman guard for the Hoyas brought the ball up and was picked up by Celestand. Braswell rose for the game winner with :03 seconds on the clock and Celestand stuffed him! The ball never even left the freshman’s hand! Celestand was all over it. Smothered! 

Time ran out. 

2nd OT 

The game seesawed a bit. Howard Brown banked in a three for Nova. Braswell responded with a driving lay-up. 82-81, Georgetown.

With a little over 2:00 left, Allen, fouled out.  Nova would keep pace thanks to a huge three from Brian Lynch with just over a minute left that gave the Cats an 87-86 lead.   

Then things got bleak for Nova. 

Georgetown took a 90-87 lead on another Braswell layup and a free throws from Daymond Jackson and Anthony Perry. Perry made the first of two, missed the second. Nova secured the rebound and pushed up the floor with :14 seconds left. 

Then a Nova Miracle. 

The Wildcats, down 3, crossed half court and set up their offense with nine seconds left. They worked it to Brown in the corner. The same corner my friend and I were sitting over in the upper level. Brown let it fly and hit the three to tie the game at 90. With 2.4 seconds left the Hoyas inbounded under the basket and threw a pass to half court. The ball was tipped by Nova and wound up in the hands of the Cats’ Jermaine Medley. Medley grabbed the ball, spun and shot all in one motion. 

Splash. 

Buzzer Beater. 

Nova Wins! 

The Wildcats scored six points in under four seconds to win in double overtime, 93-90. 

Me, Ryan and his parents jumped with excitement, high-fived and then ran to the parking lot. We had our own game to play. We got from the upper level to the car in record time and we were one of the first cars out of the lot. We just made our CYO game in Lansdale, which for the record, we won.

One of the things that made being at this game so awesome was that the broadcast had a horrible camera angle for Medley’s game winner. ESPN didn’t capture the shot live. When Ryan and I got to our game that night, a teammate couldn’t believe we “were at that game.” He said it wasn’t until replays aired that people at home actually saw what happened.  

Fast forward 17 years. I’m boarding a flight, Charlotte to Philadelphia. Christmas Eve. None-other-than Steve Lappas sits next to me. We get to talking. Incredibly nice guy. I bring up this Nova game. Two things he told me. He knew Celestand had Braswell on that block in the first OT and he still can’t believe how Medley made that circus shot at the end. Neither can I. 

Nova-Georgetown double OT, truly the best game I ever saw.  

The Kris Jenkins shot vs. North Carolina was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

The Kris Jenkins shot vs. North Carolina was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

Reuben Frank and Sean Kane both chose the 2016 national championship game between Villanova and North Carolina as the greatest game they ever saw in person. Reuben was there as a reporter, Sean was there as a fan. Here are each of their perspectives. 

Reuben Frank: We're taught from Day 1 as journalists to never let your emotions show, to remain unbiased, and for the first 33 years, six months and 12 days of my career I had a perfect record. Then Kris Jenkins hit a jumper. So much for objectivity. I was court-side at NRG Stadium in Houston - second row, center court - when Jenkins his that 26-footer at the buzzer to give Villanova the 2016 NCAA Championship over North Carolina, and I'm pretty sure that Mike Kern of the Daily News, sitting to my left, and I both stood up and looked at each other and screamed "OHHHHHHHHHHH" at the top of our lungs when the ball splashed through the basket as the buzzer sounded.

Then, as the confetti rained down from the roof and bedlam ensued, Jenkins for some reason ran right in front of me to celebrate and I began taking as many pictures as I could. The Super Bowl was dramatic and unforgettable. But for that Villanova-UNC game I was on top of the action, just a few feet from the court, just a few feet where I lost my cool after 33 years, just a few feet from the greatest shot in college basketball history. 

Sean Kane: This game narrowly edges out Super Bowl 52 and the classic Duke/Kentucky regional final at the Spectrum in 1992. I'm fortunate enough to have been in attendance for arguably the two greatest shots in college basketball history - Christian Laettner's turnaround jumper to beat Kentucky and Kris Jenkins' three-pointer to beat North Carolina. The 2016 national title game is my choice for a number of reasons. Growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, I've been a Villanova fan for as long as I can remember. My grandfather went to Villanova. My uncle and cousin went there too. I've been going to Villanova basketball and football games since I was a little boy. So to be there to see my favorite team win a national championship at the buzzer? Nothing tops that. 

The 2016 Final Four was the first time I attended a Villanova NCAA Tournament game as a fan. I covered Villanova in the tournament every year from 2006-2009, trying my best to stay objective. But going as a fan was a new experience. My Dad and I decided to go as soon as Villanova beat Kansas in the Elite Eight. My wife immediately got us plane tickets and a hotel room in Houston and we left the morning of the national semifinals. We were there for Villanova's historic 44-point win over Oklahoma on Saturday night, the biggest blowout in Final Four history. The PGA Tour was in Houston that weekend, so we spent Sunday watching golf. It all worked out perfectly. Then the main event - Villanova and North Carolina in the championship game on Monday night. North Carolina had ended Villanova's season in the NCAA Tournament three times during the Jay Wright Era - 2005, 2009 and 2013. But this time was different thanks to Phil Booth's 20 points off the bench and Ryan Arcidiacono finding Jenkins for the win as the buzzer sounded. It was one of the greatest games in college basketball history. It ended with the best shot in NCAA Tournament history. And I was there to see it with my Dad, who raised me as a Villanova fan. That's as good as it gets for me.