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Could the NCAA make history on two straight nights?

This year’s NCAA men’s tournament came to a heartstopping finish Monday night, as Villanova junior Kris Jenkins hoisted a buzzer-beating game winner from the three-point line to defeat UNC in a match for the ages. Meanwhile, the UConn women’s team is going for its fourth-straight title on Tuesday. William Brangham sits down with Mechelle Voepel of ESPN and sportswriter John Feinstein for more.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now to an instant sports classic, and college basketball history, possibly on two straight nights.

    William Brangham is here with the latest on the NCAA championships, starting with last night's amazing men's title game.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    This had been a close game throughout the night. The North Carolina Tar Heels, in white, were trailing Villanova by just three points with just seconds left when the ball ends up in Marcus Paige's hands.

  • ANNOUNCER:

    They're going to have to do something from the outside now. It's Paige off-balance. Impossible! How did he do that? Ties the game with 4.7 seconds to go.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    With just a little more than four seconds to go, everyone thought it was headed for overtime, but then this:

  • ANNOUNCER:

    Three seconds at midcourt. Gives it to Jenkins for the championship.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • ANNOUNCER:

    Villanova, phenomenal, the national champions, with Jenkins hitting the winner at the buzzer!

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    It was the first time a team hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to win the men's title. And more history could be made tonight.

    The University of Connecticut women's team is going for its 11th title, and its fourth in a row when they play Syracuse.

    To help us catch our breath and appreciate all of this, we turn to sportswriters John Feinstein of The Washington Post and numerous books. He joins us from Augusta, Georgia, where he's covering The Masters for The Golf Channel. And Mechelle Voepel of ESPNW.

    So, John Feinstein, I would like to start with you.

    Last night, it's tough to beat a game like that for excitement and adrenaline. Is that the best NCAA Final you have ever seen?

  • JOHN FEINSTEIN, Sportswriter:

    I have seen 38 of them, William, and none like that one, because no one did anything wrong in that climactic final minute.

    Villanova made all four of their three-throws. Carolina made an extraordinary three-pointer by Marcus Paige to tie the game and climax their 10-point comeback. And then Villanova, at a moment when you would have thought they might panic, not only got a winning shot off, but their point guard, Ryan Arcidiacono, had the wherewith to realize he had time, even with under two seconds on the clock, to pass the ball to his best shooter, Kris Jenkins, who nails the three-pointer at the buzzer.

    Have never seen anything quite like it. I'm not sure we will ever see anything quite like it again. It was extraordinary.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    So, this goes down as instant classic in your mind?

  • JOHN FEINSTEIN:

    Oh, at the very least. Instant classic might be an understatement.

    And I tend to people overstate things, because we all think the last thing we saw was the best thing we saw. But this one was extraordinary. These were clearly the two best teams. They had rolled over all their opponents to get to the final, including Saturday night in the semis, when Villanova beat Oklahoma by 44 and North Carolina beat Syracuse by 17.

    And neither could dominate the other. It ended the way it should, with one team making a shot at the buzzer after another team had made a remarkable play just to tie the game.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    I'm curious. When you saw Marcus Paige hit that incredible three-pointer, did you think that was going to overtime?

  • JOHN FEINSTEIN:

    I did. I honestly did. And the reason I thought it was because Villanova had to be deflated at that moment. They'd lost a 10-point lead. They hadn't done anything wrong, and yet the game was tied. They defended very well on that play where Paige hit that shot that you're referring to.

    And it's to Jay Wright's credit and the credit of a very experienced team that, in that huddle, they were able to get their act together and run a play. It's called Nova that they run in practice every day at the end of practice, and they acted as if they were in an empty gym, rather than in a football stadium with 75,000 people there and millions watching on TV. Incredible calm under pressure.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    All right, Mechelle Voepel, let's turn to tonight.

    Obviously, incredible game last night, and another potential piece of history happening tonight. Of course, no one thinks that tonight's game is going to go down to the buzzer. I mean, we have got University of Connecticut just on an unbelievable roll, such a long winning streak. They're hoping to really rack up an incredible number of titles if they win tonight.

    How do you explain their dominance in the women's game?

  • MECHELLE VOEPEL, ESPNW:

    They have got an incredible coach in Geno Auriemma, somebody who has really been ahead of the game for so many years now.

    And he's got great continuity in staff. His top assistant, Chris Dailey, has been with him ever since they have been — when they took over the program at Connecticut back in 1985.

    And they are able to get not all the best players in the country, but the best players that they want, and players who want to be coached, players who are good when they come there, but know that they can be great when they leave. And that's been a big recipe for success for them.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Everyone does talk about, just as you did, the influence of their coach. What is he doing? What's the special sauce there?

  • MECHELLE VOEPEL:

    Well, obviously, he is a great X's and O's basketball genius. There's no doubt in my mind about that.

    And if you talk to the professional players who went to UConn or even the professional players who played for him on the U.S. national team — he will be coaching in the Olympics for the second time later this year — they talk about how he really was ahead of the game even 10, 20 years ago in understanding how to teach read-and-react offense, how to get his players to play at a pace that put other teams on their heels from the very beginning of the game.

    He really is a basketball genius. And what he's done with the media has been incredible, too. He's given an enormous amount of time to the media, and he's a funny guy. Sometimes, he's a very outspoken guy, sometimes a controversial guy, but he's been a terrific spokesman for women's sports and women's basketball specifically.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    University of Connecticut's dominance, has it been a good thing for women's basketball or a bad thing? I mean, I have heard it argued both ways. What is your take on that?

  • MECHELLE VOEPEL:

    I never see how excellence is a bad thing.

    And the comparison that a lot of us have made for years is what UCLA did and John Wooden did for men's basketball, at one point winning seven titles in a row. UConn women tonight are going to be going for four titles in a row.

    They have raised the bar. And I think in every single sport, you have had individuals or teams that have raised the bar that everybody else has to try on match to beat them. And I understand that some people look at some of their games and say it's boring because they beat the other team by so much.

    But when you watch — actually watch them play, what isn't boring is just how well they play basketball, and I think then that's something for everybody who is trying to chase them to aspire to.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    John Feinstein, what do you make of that?

  • JOHN FEINSTEIN:

    Well, I think dynasties are good for any sport, because they bring people to that sport who might not normally be paying attention.

    You can't not notice what the UConn women have attained. You couldn't not notice what Tiger Woods did in golf when he was dominating the sport. You can't not notice what UCLA, as Mechelle said, back when they won 10 titles in 12 years.

    I think it's good for sports when you have a dynasty, because it does raise the level of interest in the sport. The other thing that UConn has going for it is, unlike in the men's game, the women stay for four years. So, you're more likely — you have a better possibility to have a dynasty, because the stars stay. They don't turn pro after a year or two.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    All right, well, we will be watching tonight.

    John Feinstein, Mechelle Voepel, thank you both very much for being here.

  • JOHN FEINSTEIN:

    My pleasure.

  • MECHELLE VOEPEL:

    Thank you.

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