Villanova sends Oklahoma to historic loss in national semifinal
Buddy Hield, who this week won the USBWA’s national player of the year award, started Saturday’s national semifinal with a three-pointer that gave Oklahoma a 3–0 lead over Villanova. That was the end of the Sooners’ highlights. The Wildcats channeled their hot-shooting predecessors from the 1985 national-title team to destroy Oklahoma, 95–51, in the Final Four at NRG Stadium in Houston, the biggest blowout in Final Four history.
Villanova shot 71.4%, the second-highest percentage ever at the Final Four, second only to the record 78.6% the Wildcats shot in their historic upset of Georgetown in the ’85 title game.
The game was actually close for a little while. There were 11 lead changes in the first nine minutes, the last one coming on a three by Villanova’s Mikal Bridges with 11:28 to go that made the score 19–17. That kicked off a 12–0 Wildcats run, and they never led by less than nine the rest of the way. A Hart three-pointer closed the first-half scoring and put ’Nova up 42–28.
Oklahoma briefly got within nine in the second half, but the Wildcats put together a 25–0 run to turn the game into one of the biggest laughers of the entire tournament, and the biggest in Final Four history.
Josh Hart had 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting and Kris Jenkins added 18 for Villanova, which avenged a 23-point loss to the Sooners back on Dec. 7.
Why it matters
Oklahoma came to the Final Four boasting the country’s most electric player in All-America guard Buddy Hield. Syracuse, a blue-blood program but the first No. 10 seed ever to get this far, arrived as the closest thing this weekend has to a Cinderella. And North Carolina made it to Houston as the only No. 1 seed remaining. Villanova was mostly overlooked, but it’s worth pointing out that the Wildcats were the team ranked No. 1 by kenpom.com coming in, and they looked every bit the best team remaining with their performance against the Sooners.
Villanova won its first three tournament games with a blistering offensive showing in which it shot 59.9% from the floor and 62% from three-point range. It won its Elite Eight game against Kansas in the South regional with defense, holding the region’s top seed to 46% in a 64–59 win.
On Saturday, the Wildcats combined both. In addition to their own amazing shooting, they held Oklahoma to 31.7% and forced 17 turnovers. They also bottled up Hield, holding the tournament’s leading scorer (29.2 points per game) to just nine points on 4-of-12 shooting. His game-opening three-pointer was his only trifecta of the game.
The only downside for Villanova may be the health of senior big man Daniel Ochefu, who left the game at one point with an apparent ankle injury, a problem that hindered him late in the season. Ochefu returned later but still didn’t look to be running at full speed.
Villanova will take on the winner of the second semifinal between North Carolina and Syracuse in the national championship game on Monday night. Tip-off is at 9:18 p.m. ET on TBS. It will be the Wildcats’ third national-title game in school history. They lost to UCLA in 1971 and beat defending national champion Georgetown in ’85.
Villanova played Syracuse for years in the Big East and split a home-and-home series with them in the 2013–14 and '14–15 seasons after the Orange left for the ACC three years ago. Villanova has played North Carolina several times in the NCAA tournament over the past three decades, beating the Tar Heels in the 1985 Southeast Regional final and losing to them in the second round in 1991, the Sweet 16 in 2005, the national semifinals in 2009 and the round of 64 in 2013.