The Villanova Wildcats shredded the Miami Hurricanes in the Sweet 16 weeks back; a painful ending to what was a special season for the Jim Larranaga-led squad. It was UM’s first NCAA run since getting equally as far in 2013, setting up a few rebuilding seasons before getting back to The Big Dance.
Where Miami bid adieu to arguably it’s best team in program’s history after falling to Marquette years back, this time around it was the end of the road for Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez; the heart and soul of this year’s Hurricanes’ squad.
Marquette’s run ended in the Elite Eight three years back—leaving Miami to play the “what if” game as it would’ve taken on fourth-seeded Syracuse and fourth-seeded Michigan en route to a title game berth again eventual one-seed Louisville.
This year, zero reason to wax poetic as Villanova left zero doubt and that whole team-of-destiny thing played out en route to the Wildcats first national championship in three decades.
Villanova jumped all over Miami in the eventual 92-69 route on March 25th—tearing off an 8-0 lead made possible by some missed shots and untimely turnovers by the Hurricanes. Halfway through the first half the Wildcats’ pushed the lead to 26-12 before Miami began to claw back.
Over the next six minutes, the Canes went on an 18-4 run and made it a 31-30 game with 4:33 left in the half. Rodriguez hit two three-pointers and a lay-up that cut the lead to one. McClellan drained a shot from beyond-the-arc. Davon Reed knocked down a jumper and a tip-in. Kamari Murphy was good for a defensive rebound.
For a good six minutes the Hurricanes went toe-to-toe with the eventual national champs; giving off the notion that anything was possible and that the second half looked to be dogfight. Villanova pushed the lead back to six before the half as Miami cooled off. In the second half, all Wildcats as they outscored the Canes by 17.
Tonye Jekiri missed a gimme lay-ip on the opening possession; a metaphor for things to come. The Villanova lead stretched to ten in less than ninety seconds—the Wildcats going on a quick 8-2 run to start the second period. Rodriguez missed a lay-up and jumper on his first two possessions of the half. Jekiri picked up two fouls. McClellan was hit with one and soon turned it over.
The wheels were coming off. Miami’s season was slipping away. Villanova closed strong. The Wildcats were no fluke and anyone watching these takedown knew that the two-seed had a legit shot of making some noise down the stretch.
Two days later, Villanova went toe-to-toe with top-seeded Kansas and pulled off the 64-59 upset—leading by four the final few minutes and staving up a Jayhawks’ comeback by way of clutch free throws and solid Wildcats’ defense.
A week later; the most-lopsided Final Four in history as Villanova destroyed second-seeded Oklahoma, 95-51. The Sooners’ Buddy Hield was held to nine points over 36 minutes while Josh Hart led the Wildcats with 23.
Come Monday, the national championship and a showdown with top-seeded North Carolina. The Tar Heels were the favorite, but no one was counting the Wildcats out. A battle for the ages, it came down to the final few possessions—as all great games do.
North Carolina trailed by ten with 4:42 remaining, but chipped away and got it down to one with just over a minute left. Villanova hit their free throws and pushed it to four before Marcus Paige knocked down a acrobatic game-tying three-pointer.
Four seconds remained and no signs of stress as Ryan Arcidiacono dribbled up court and passed it to Kris Jenkins, who knocked down the game-winning three-pointer in epic fashion.
Villanova had “it” this season and things came together in storybook fashion. Miami had a bit of that “it” in 2013 with that loaded squad, but hit a speed bump in the process and ultimate success was halted.
This year’s Hurricanes’ squad had its moments—taking down Duke, Virginia and Louisville—but slip-ups against Clemson, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech served as proof that Miami was good-not-great and too inconsistent to survive March Madness without any collateral damage.
There was also that 25-point drubbing in Chapel Hill against the same North Carolina squad that Villanova took down for the title.
A hell of a run for the Canes, but in the end the best team came out on top.