Have to confess I expended a lot of negative energy during the NCAA title game frustrated at the refereeing. The Heels were likely the victim of a few more bad calls (or no calls) than was Villanova, although I felt as though the refs were bad all around. Was a classic example of “look-at-me” reffing with nickel-dimers frequently called up top and everything goes down low.
But as the second half wore on, I found myself just as frequently shaking my head at ’Nova hitting yet another contested shot. Sure, they hit plenty of open ones, too (including treys), but at least a half-dozen times I had that “what can you do?” feeling at the end of a well-defensed possession that had concluded with the Wildcats hitting one more tough jumper.
A drought on the offensive end late in the second half caused Carolina to dig that 10-point hole, and it didn’t surprise me at all to see the team’s leader, Marcus Paige, lead the way to help UNC climb out of it. The double-clutch three-pointer to tie with 4.7 seconds left was stunning, sure, but for those who’ve been watching the team all year -- and Paige for the last four -- it didn’t feel at the time like something too crazy to occur.
It was a not improbable event, you might say. The one that followed was not improbable, either.
When Kris Jenkins rose to shoot the game-winner, I actually blinked very slowly, kind of accepting before the fact that the shot -- unlike so many others, a clean, open look -- was likely to be a good one. It did hit the mark (doing so as time expired), and as happened with Paige’s shot, I was slow to react.
So was Villanova coach Jay Wright. Have already seen a number of outlets -- including non-poker ones -- refer to his “poker face” following the shot. It was a good one.
Wright watches the shot fall, and with zero expression at all turns to the right and begins walking to shake hands with Roy Williams. There might be a slight grimace there -- kind of a “what can you do?” look, now that I think about it -- then as he sees Williams walking towards him he holds his arms outward and looks like he’s about to shrug while assistants begin to hug him from behind.
Here's a Vine of Wright's response, via The Cauldron:
It very much resembled a poker player who was all in and hit a needed card to win, then immediately faced having to console the opponent whom he’d beaten. The shot could go in -- and as I said, it wasn’t improbable that it would -- and when it did, well, that was that. It was kind of an extreme mini-illustration of that oft-recommended advice not to be “results oriented,” or so it seemed.
Such a cool shot. And a cool response, too.
Like I say, I’m only now feeling disappointed, although that last note sounded by Wright -- so matter-of-fact, and sportsmanlike -- is somehow helping prevent the pain from feeling too intense. Sure, there are lots of “what if?” questions lingering, but the way the game ended really did feel like both teams played their hands pretty well. And the last card went ’Nova’s way.