The Oklahoma Sooners’ NCAA Tournament title run came to an end Saturday after losing 95-51 to Villanova in the Final Four.
The Sooners entered the game an underdog, surprisingly, but didn’t start out like one.
Buddy Hield set the tone of the game, opening with a long-range bucket out the gate, giving OU the first lead of the game.
The score helped lead him to 2,287 career points, pushing him past LaceDarius Dunn (2,285) to make him the new Big 12 all-time scorer.
Villanova answered back quickly and took a 10-7 lead after a few Sooner turnovers, but Ryan Spangler cut the deficit to one with a hard dunk on an assist from Isaiah Cousins.
Midway through the half, the Sooners and Wildcats exchanged threes to keep the scoring gap close. At this point, both teams were shooting solid, both 3-for-6 from deep, making both teams hard for one another to defend.
At the 9:30 mark, Villanova was on a seven-point run, carrying a 23-17 advantage. Most of the elevating scores came from OU turnovers and second chance baskets. And by the 7:24 mark, Villanova led 26-17 after a 12-0 run, giving the Sooners their largest deficit of the tournament. OU looked sloppy and Villanova was taking advantage of the extra offensive possessions.
The Wildcats continues to stay hot, extending their lead 35-21 after hitting their fifth bucket from behind the arc. When Villanova faced OU earlier in the season, the Wildcats only made 4-of-32 threes during the entirety of the game, while the Sooners made 14-of-36. It was obvious that the Wildcats had made adjustments since that game.
In the last timeout of the half, Lon Kruger told his Sooners that they needed to fight on defense and move the ball better on offense.
Villanova proceeded to dominate to pack a 42-28 lead into the locker room. The Wildcats finished shooting 18-27 from the field and did a good job containing Hield.
“A lot of energy and we threw a lot of bodies at him,” answered Villanova head coach Jay Wright when asked how his team held Hield to seven points in the first 20 minutes.
If OU was going to come back, the team had to stop making turnovers, own the glass, play better defense and start attacking the basket. Nothing impossible, but it was going to take a special kind of effort.
The Sooners also needed Hield, Woodard, and Cousins to contribute more in the final half. You can't have three of your most versatile scorers, contributing little to none and beat a team like Villanova, who’s been playing just as good this season. Christian James and Jamuni McNeace made as many shots in the first half (4) as Woodard, Spangler, and Cousins combined.
Opening the second half, the Sooners couldn’t shake their cold streak missing six shots in a row. But Woodard sparked some momentum with a deep three in hopes of ending OU’s dry spell.
Woodard soon cut the Sooners’ deficit to single digits after a putback off his own missed free throw. Kruger looked happy from the sideline, surely hopeful that the play was the start of a comeback.
The Sooners were beating the Wildcats on the boards midway through the final but weren’t capitalizing off the possessions. At the 13 minute mark, Villanova led 54-41.
Shooting 70 percent from the field, Villanova advanced its advantage shortly before the game began to look like a circus. OU’s sloppy play led them to a 35-point deficit with 7:31 before the buzzer.
The Wildcats went on to win 95-51, handing OU the biggest loss in Final Four history to advance to championship play. Villanova finished shooting 71 percent from the field, the highest percentage in a Final Four game since the Wildcats beat Georgetown in the 1985 championship.
Villanova will now play the winner of North Carolina and Syracuse for the NCAA Tournament title.
After the game, a classy Hield said, "Hats off to Villanova. They deserve it."
Hield, who averaged 25.4 points per game this season, wrapped Final Four play with just nine.
"We played a horrible game tonight," said the Sooner senior. "Basketball is funny like that sometimes, you know when things are going good for you and then it turns bad like that."
Kruger also expressed his disappointment but knows his team will bounce back.
"This group is so special, but yet, this is so disappointing. We'll be back," stated Kruger. "What the seniors have done, the young guys have benefited tremendously."