HOUSTON — It started exactly the way you would have expected it to.
It started with Buddy Hield, by far the biggest attraction in a Final Four that isn’t exactly brimming with star power, doing exactly the thing that Villanova had spent the last five days telling their guys not to let him do.
It started with Hield isolated top of the key. It started with two hard dribbles to his left. It started with a step-back jumper, a rhythm three, a bucket and a 3-0 lead for the Sooners.
“I could have killed Ryan,” Villanova assistant coach Ashley Howard said, chuckling, of star guard Ryan Arcidiacono. “When you get out there in the game you’ve got to get a feel for him. He adjusted. All our guys adjusted.”
That would be the last time that Hield, one of just four players in the last 40 years to enter the Final Four averaging more than 25 points, would look comfortable on the NRG Stadium court, as Villanova put on the single-most dominating Final Four performance in the history of the sport.
They won 95-51, the 44-point margin the largest in the history of the Final Four. Those 95 points are the most anyone’s scored in the Final Four in 13 years. They shot 71.4 percent from the floor, as Villanova became just the second team in Final Four history to shoot better than 70 percent from the floor, although their 35-for-49 performance paled in comparison to the 22-for-28 shooting (78.6%) that the 1985 iteration of the Wildcats posted in their title game win over Georgetown. As a team, Villanova shot 11-for-18 from three. They scored 1.484 points-per-possession. Oklahoma’s last lead was at 17-16. Villanova went on a 12-0 run then, pushed their lead to 16 points in the first half and, after Oklahoma got to within 54-41 early in the second half, used a 25-0 run to push their lead to 38 points. In total, the Sooners were outscored 68-27 over a 26-minute stretch.
A performance like that is impressive when the top teams in the country are squaring off with their buy game opponents. In a game like this? In the Final Four? Against a top ten team that rosters the nation’s best scorer? That’s quite literally never happened before, and it very well may never happen again.
It was the totality of the beatdown that was striking, and not just because it was the exact opposite of what happened in Hawai’i back in December, when Oklahoma beat the Wildcats by 23 points.
Villanova ripped Oklahoma’s soul out of their chest, chewed it up and spit it out in a bag that they put on Old Man Clemons porch and lit on fire. They broke Oklahoma. The Sooners were done midway through the second half.
“With 12 minutes left, Coach told us to quit looking at the score and keep playing,” Oklahoma’s Ryan Spangler said. “That’s not a good sign right there.”
I’m sure someone is going to criticize Oklahoma for that, but can you really blame them? It was quite evident at that point that Villanova wasn’t going to be blowing that lead. Hield, Spangler, Isaiah Cousins. Those three guys are seniors. They knew their career was over, that this was the last time that they’d be playing with this group of guys, that their final college basketball memory would be playing out the clock of a humiliating mollywhopping in what may be the biggest game that they’ll ever play in.
You can only fight but so hard for a lost cause.
“I feel bad for Oklahoma,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “We’ve all had those nights.”
Josh Hart led six players in double-figures for the Wildcats, finishing with 23 points, eight boards and four assists. He was 10-for-12 from the floor and had a series of back-breaking buckets early in the second half that helped to put the game away. Kris Jenkins chipped in with 18 points while Ryan Arcidiacono added 15 points and three assists.
The most impressive part of the win, however, was the work that Villanova did against Hield. He finished the night shooting 4-for-12 from the floor and 1-for-8 from three, scoring nine points. Before the first TV timeout, four different Villanova defenders had been matched up with Hield. By the 13-minute mark, Kris Jenkins and Phil Booth had gotten their shot as well.
Villanova was constantly changing looks defensively, and not just with the guys they had guarding Hield. Villanova cycled through all of their different defensive looks at least twice in the first half, using everything from a 2-3 matchup zone and a 1-2-2 zone press to a switching man-to-man and a straight man-to-man with a guard denying Hield the ball.
“Just credit to them, what they was doing,” Hield said. “Made it tough on me. Throwing a bunch of bodies at me. Just couldn’t get it going.”
It wasn’t all on Hield, either. Combined, Hield, Cousins and Jordan Woodard scored 36 points — fewer than Hield had on his own in the Elite 8 — on 10-for-36 shooting while hitting just 5-for-22 from three. Villanova’s team defense was just too much for the Sooners guards to handle. Cousins couldn’t get any penetration, Woodard didn’t get any clean looks outside of a four-minute stretch early in the second half.
We’ve said it all season long: Oklahoma doesn’t have a way to win games when their guards aren’t hitting shots, and while the severity of the loss is striking, the fact that it played out the way that it did shouldn’t be overly surprising.
“They just dictated on both ends of the floor,” Lon Kruger said. ‘They were great. We didn’t respond very well to it.”
“We got whipped in every way.”