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In Championship Effort, Villanova Represented Philly Well

If there is any divide in local sports, it comes from college sports. There's nothing wrong with a little friendly rivalry, especially when you're a city bound as tightly as Philadelphia is over their pro teams.

But for one night, whether you agree with the geography or not, Villanova represented the entire city of Philadelphia.

This doesn't happen often for the Big 5, a group of five schools that is as Philly as it gets. Only four teams in the past -- La Salle in 1954 and 1955 and Villanova in 1971 and 1985 -- had made the NCAA National Championship game. They only won twice, La Salle in 1954 and Villanova in 1985.

You can add 2016 to that grouping, as Villanova's 77-74 win over North Carolina made them National Champions.

Villanova played the way a Philly team should on a national scale in one of the biggest games of the year in all of sports. That kind of scrappiness and grit is what makes a team memorable and lovable, particularly in the city the exudes those qualities.

They will be legends in school history without a doubt, but they should be Philadelphia legends too, because they represented the city so well.

First, you look at the way Villanova got to the National Championship to begin with. It wasn't just the way they won but who they defeated to get there.

They way they won is really nothing more than an old cliche of sports that continues to stand the test of time. Play tough defense and the offense can sometimes take care of itself. The Villanova Wildcats were as strong a defensive team as any in the country and they made every game in that tournament troublesome and frustrating for each opponent.

It didn't happen often, but Villanova had to get scrappy on offense too. They had incredible shooting nights in four games in the Tournament, but against Kansas and North Carolina, teams that were going to battle, it wasn't so much about the shots they missed, which still wasn't many, but how they managed to earn points at crucial moments.

Villanova's largest deficit at any point in the Tournament was seven.

In addition to the way they won, it was who they defeated. Villanova had to redesign the Big East and has one of the more recognizable teams within the conference. That said, nearly annual trips to the Tournament hasn't meant much to the rest of the college basketball world.

The knock on Nova was that they couldn't get past the first weekend of the Tournament. Not since 2009 had there been a run that went well into March. Wins over Iowa, Miami, Kansas, Oklahoma and North Carolina should silence the critics.

In the final rankings of the seasons before the Tournament, all five of those teams were considered Top-25 teams. Villanova's last three wins were against the teams ranked first, seventh and third.

These are powerhouses of college basketball. And Villanova, who always had 1985 to hang on to but nothing more in terms of wins, was the team that played like a powerhouse school, that gutted out as demanding a win as you will find.

It takes a team too, which is why for every game, another player was the leader. On Monday night, of all people, it was Phil Booth, the sophomore off the bench, who had 20 points for a new career high in the title game. Prior to that, the usual suspects: Kris Jenkins, Daniel Ochefu, Ryan Arcidiacono, Josh Hart, led the way in each of the previous four games with balanced scoring.

For their two toughest games in the tournament, against Kansas and UNC, the Wildcats rotated eight players -- Jenkins, Ochefu, Arcidiacono, Hart, Booth, Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Darryl Reynolds. That was it. And they all played a key role, whether it was with tenacious defense or clutch shooting.

On Monday night, Bridges and Jenkins played a majority of the second half with four fouls. Jenkins, who is good for 30 minutes per game at least, played just 21 in the National Championship game. The last one was the most important, for him to be there at the end for the shot.

The final 94 seconds were a whirlwind that will test the will of any team. To watch a lead of six drop to one in the blink of an eye, only to give up the tying three-pointer on an incredible shot can swing momentum. But Villanova, with the calm, cool and collected Jay Wright, knew what they had to do and executed to perfection. 

Jenkins joins the likes of Christian Laettner and Lorenzo Charles. That shot, the shot, will live forever not only in college basketball and Philadelphia sports, but all of sports. A classic in every sense of the word.

And Villanova, the school right in Philadelphia's backyard, brought a Philly effort to that game, a true representation of the Big 5, which has always represented the city so well.

Kevin Durso is editorial assistant for Sports Talk Philly. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.

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