By Anthony Rushing – (Photo of the Villanova defense stopping Buddy Hield – Twitter @Nova_MBB)
Villanova made sure to erase any doubts or concerns about the dimensions of NRG Stadium, in Houston, with an epic shooting performance on Saturday night.
Josh Hart scored 23 points to lead the Wildcats to a dominating 95-51 victory over Oklahoma to advance to the National Championship game on Monday night.
The victory was the biggest Final Four semifinal win in history, Villanova stunned everyone with a offensive performance for the record books.
A good portion of the headlines leading into this weekend’s Final Four centered around NRG Stadium being a shooter’s nightmare. There was concern, with three of the four semifinalists being strong shooting team’s, field goal percentages would take a significant drop. Villanova put any thoughts of this to rest, the Wildcats shot a blistering 71 percent from the field in this game.
“Well, that was just one of those games that could happen to anybody,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright afterwards. “I feel bad for Oklahoma that it happened to them in the Final Four.
I’m happy we had one of those games where we just make every shot. We had end-of-shot-clock shots we just threw up and went in. Kind of similar to our game in Hawaii against Oklahoma. They made everything, we couldn’t make anything. It was simply one of those nights.”
Both teams spent the first five to seven minutes of the game trading baskets, it began to look as if this was going to be a Texas shootout with the Wildcats and Sooners finding the range early on. Villanova, however, began to turn their defense up a notch which led to the opening they needed to create distance.
Villanova forced nine first half turnovers by Oklahoma which led to 15 points for the Wildcats. The offense of Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Ryan Arcidiacono and fueled a 21-4 run. Oklahoma, meanwhile, found themselves in a scoring drought. The Sooners would go four and a half minutes without scoring, nothing was working on either side of the ball.
“We were so locked in defensively, locked into the scouting report,” Hart would say afterwards. “I think that’s just the mindset we came in with. Obviously we love when we can hit shots. But this program is really built on just dialing in defensively, being tough.
I think there was one play in the first half when Cousins hit a banked three. That’s when attitude comes into play. Not being rattled, just when things like that happen, look at your brother in the eye and say, Attitude, continue to be locked in.”
Oklahoma senior Buddy Hield came into the this weekend as the player to watch and Villanova made sure the All-American selection was priority number one tonight. Hield struggled to get into an offensive flow in the first half, he shot 1 of 5 from behind the three-point line with the Wildcats limiting him to 3 of 8 from the field.
Hart would drain a three to help close out a strong first half for Villanova and give them a 42-28 lead. In the second half Oklahoma managed to come out with energy and a much-needed sense of urgency. The damage was already done, and they would have needed to play flawless basketball the rest of the way to overcome Villanova. The Wildcats hot shooting continued in the second half and, unfortunately for Oklahoma, so did Hield and the rest of their team’s cold shooting.
“Obviously not the result that we wanted. But proud of this group,” Said Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger after the game. “Thought Villanova played great. Congratulations to them. I thought they popped us there in the first half and we didn’t respond very well to that. We came out with a little better fight to start the second half. Villanova withstood that. Then popped us again. We didn’t handle that very well. But, again, credit Villanova. Thought they were great.”
The Sooners were led by Jordan Woodard with 12 points. Hield didn’t finish his collegiate career on the note he was hoping for, he finished with 9 points on 4 of 12 shooting.
“Just credit them, what they was doing,” said Hield. “Made it tough on me. Throwing a bunch of bodies at me. Just couldn’t get it going. They made shots. We was trying to find a way to make shots. They just played terrific tonight.”
Jenkins added 18 points for Villanova, Arcidiacono chipped in 15 points.
Villanova will now move on to face North Carolina for the National Championship on Monday night.