'Nova's Phil Booth at his best in title game
HOUSTON - Outside of a locker room inside NRG Stadium, there are six large-as-life photographs of Villanova Wildcats in action. Of course, the five starters. No coincidence, they made sure another guy was on the wall, too, a picture of concentration.
HOUSTON -- Phil Booth sat at his locker, answering all the questions. Did Booth have any idea he would be answering these exact same ones for the rest of his life? That the name Phil Booth will always conjure an April night in Houston, 2016? His shots will always fall. Villanova always wins.
Just outside a locker room inside NRG Stadium were six life-size action photographs of Villanova Wildcats, the same men inside the room. The players themselves had looked a little wide-eyed at those photos. Of course, 'Nova's five starters were on the wall. And another guy, a picture of concentration, was on the wall.
Call Phil Booth a best supporting player for the ages, except inside NRG Stadium this man, this fearless sophomore guard was a star. A career-high 20 points? Leading Villanova scorer in a game that lives forever?
You should have heard him in that room.
What kicked him into a rhythm?
"Open looks," Booth said. "We were moving the ball real well. I got chances to drive. Guys were finding me in rhythm."
He said he had opportunities like that _ "every day in practice."
Said it with a straight face, sitting there, the leading Villanova scorer in the 2016 NCAA title game.
"Same game, man," Booth said.
Later, Jay Wright talked about how it was a feel thing keeping Booth out there Monday night. Wright brought up how he'd taken Booth out at the end of last year's NCAA loss to North Carolina State. Just Villanova's coach bringing it up, you wonder if Wright later regretted it.
After that one, Wright had ticked off some things for the next season _ this season _ and he explicitly said Phil Booth would be a starter. Except things changed by preseason. This was going to be one of those years where there were more starting players than starting spots.
It was all part of the tapestry of this one. People talked about North Carolina's great depth, but Villanova's bench has Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges. Who had the bench advantage? Let's call it like it is: No NCAA team brought better guys to a scorer's table.
Moments that will linger from 77-74:
The sophomore made those two free throws with 35 seconds left, 'Nova up one.
Of those free throws, Booth said, "Don't think about the moment. Focus. Do your routine. Everything else is locked up."
And somehow he found room for a fadeaway jumper with no room to operate and the shot clock about to go off, Villanova up three in the last four minutes. A jumper that Villanova absolutely had to have, good options evaporated, the shot clock down to a couple of clicks.
"I had a bigger guy on me," the 6-foot-3 Booth said at his locker. "I was trying to get in the lane, look for somebody ... Nobody was open. It was great defense."
A man who knows a little about what Booth is feeling now offered this advice when asked if he had any. From '85 hero Harold Jensen: "Cherish the moment, feel blessed, and have supreme confidence going forward. And then get back to work!"
Here's another Booth moment: Early in the second half, a 6-foot-10 Tar Heels forward was on Booth after a switch, giving him too much room. It was almost as if Booth was asking, `You going to get out here and guard me? No? OK, then.' Swish.
"I happened to be making shots _ they were kind of denying Kris and Arch," Booth said, those other guys not needing full names anymore to be identified with NCAA history.
"He was feeling it," his coach said.
Of not playing at the end last year, Wright said, "Phil never complained, never said a word."
A restaurant inside Houston Hobby Airport, Tuesday morning, a man and two women, man dressed in Carolina blue, eating eggs. Were they talking about the game? Must have been. A name overheard " ... Phil Booth."