CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina’s Joel Berry II still replays it in his mind, over and over.
The ball left the hand of Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, reached the height of its arc as the horn sounded then dropped through the net a split second before confetti started falling from the rafters. And as the Wildcats celebrated a national championship, the Tar Heels walked off the court in Houston in disbelief.
Nearly a year later, that 3-pointer still hangs over both teams as they start the NCAA Tournament as Final Four favorites. For Villanova, the goal is to follow Jenkins’ shot by becoming the first repeat champion since Florida a decade ago. For UNC, it’s about getting back to that moment and finishing.
“I just think about it all the time,” Berry said recently. “Four seconds made a difference in my life. I wish I could get those four seconds back, but I can’t. . This is the time where we just have to lock in, and every time we go out — whether it’s practice, whether we’re just shooting around, no matter what it is — we’ve got to remember that four seconds.”
The play binds two teams offering an unusual bit of continuity amid college basketball’s era of one-and-dones and roster turnover.
The Wildcats (31-3) are the tournament’s top overall seed in the East Region while the Tar Heels (27-7) headline the South , making this only the second time the national finalists both earned a No. 1 seed the following year since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 (Duke and Kansas were the others in 1992).
And five current players in major roles were on the court for those final 4.7 seconds: Jenkins and national player of the year candidate Josh Hart for Villanova; Berry, Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks for UNC. A sixth, Villanova’s Phil Booth, hasn’t played since November due to an injury.
“We know this year’s going to be tougher,” Jenkins said. “It’s a totally different year. Teams are different. The teams that we’re going to face are different, but last year does nothing for us.”
Jenkins’ shot has earned a permanent place in tournament lore alongside oft-replayed moments such as Christian Laettner’s shot against Kentucky to send Duke to the Final Four or Lorenzo Charles’ dunk at the buzzer to cap North Carolina State’s “Cardiac Pack” championship win against Houston’s Phi Slama Jama.
The Tar Heels had just rallied from 10 down in the final 5½ minutes to tie it on Marcus Paige’s double-pump circus shot of a 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left. Villanova called timeout, then had Jenkins inbound the ball to Ryan Arcidiacono.
Arcidiacono pushed upcourt against Berry, cut to his right then flipped an underhand toss to a trailing Jenkins — who caught it in stride and launched the 3 over a closing Hicks.
The ball hit the inside of the rim with an audible thud and banged through for the 77-74 win, sending Villanova’s bench spilling onto the court to mob Jenkins.
“For me, the motivation I use is the feeling that we had when that confetti came down and it wasn’t for us,” said Jackson, who was defending Hart near the right sideline. “It felt simultaneous whenever he hit the shot and the confetti was coming down. It wasn’t a feeling of upset, it wasn’t a feeling of sad, it was just a feeling of, ‘Did that really just happen?'”
There’s been no easy way to avoid it, either.
“Any time they start talking about the tournament, boom, the shot’s on,” Jackson said. “For about a month and a half, that’s all that was on SportsCenter, all that was on ESPN. So it’s hard to get away from it.”
Indeed, even when Paige and Arcidiacono recently crossed paths in the NBA’s D-League a long way from the spotlight.
Berry got his own reminder during last week’s Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament in Brooklyn. He told reporters there that the team caught Jenkins’ shot in a highlight on a Times Square video board.
“I see myself just looking at the ball,” Berry said, adding: “I don’t want to see it but then I do because it makes me realize what my goal is for this year.”
As for Jenkins, he isn’t looking back.
He even sounded almost nonchalant about the shot when asked during the Big East Tournament. Maybe he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself; Villanova and North Carolina can’t meet in this year’s tournament until the title game again in Phoenix.
“I have forgotten about that shot,” Jenkins said. “I have taken so many shots after that, it’s just one of the shots that I shot. That’s it.”
Maybe, but it was a lot more than just another shot for the two schools.
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in New York contributed to this report.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap