March Madness: How did Villanova pull off that stunning rout of Oklahoma?
HOUSTON – They claimed afterward they had no idea what was happening. The stunning numbers they were running up, or the Final Four history they were making.
As the lead over an overwhelmed Oklahoma team grew to 20, and 30, and 40, the Villanova Wildcats maintained they just kept their eyes on the prize, and the Sooners. Not the enormous scoreboards at each end of NRG Stadium that were telling a remarkable tale of carnage.
“We were so dialed in on defense, I really didn’t get a chance to look at the score until I got subbed out the last time,” Kris Jenkins would mention in the locker room afterward.
"However big that scoreboard is, I never looked up there, except to see the shot clock," Mikal Bridges said.
"I didn’t even realize. I didn’t look. I just saw the ball going in the basket,” Phil Booth said.
"Well, there were times during the game I was thinking, this is crazy," Darryl Reynolds confessed. "I think that’s why I have this look on my face, to be honest. Forty-four points in a Final Four game is, you can’t imagine."
Indeed, who could possibly have seen this coming?
No one could have dreamed of 95-51, the largest winning margin in the history of the Final Four.
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Or foreseen the 67-point turnaround from December in Honolulu, when Oklahoma beat Villanova 78-55. Or the 25-0 Villanova stampede over the Sooners at one stretch in the second half.
Or guessed that Buddy Hield – averaging 29 points in the NCAA Tournament – would never see double figures. That his nine points would be fewer than six – six – different Wildcats.
Or conjured up the Villanova magic that would splash all over Oklahoma. The Wildcats’ 71.4 shooting percentage was the second highest in the history of the Final Four, behind only – yep – the 1985 Villanova national championship epic against Georgetown. Those Wildcats famously shot an incredible 22-for-28 -- all on 2-pointers in those pre-3 days. With just over four minutes left Saturday night, know what Villanova was in 2-pointers? Right, 22-for-28.
"That's cool," Ryan Arcidiacono said. "I guess."
If that sounds less than giddy, it's because the Villanova locker room was not exactly a wild party, never mind the thrashing they had just put on the Sooners.
"We’re trying to stay business as usual," Arcidiacono said. "We came here to win a national championship, and now we have the opportunity to."
But what about all those records?
"We can think about that later."
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Sure, but still. This was so impressive, one question to wonder is which team in Philadelphia is better: Villanova or the 76ers?
And there was another question.
What in blazes happened? What turned Villanova into a tidal wave and Oklahoma into a train wreck?
Let’s go around NRG Stadium for theories.
Jenkins: "Defensively we were so dialed in. That's the most dialed in I've ever seen our guys. When we were locked in and focused like that defensively it fuels our offense."
Reynolds: "It was one of those nights where all of our shots were falling in. They got some great looks that wouldn’t fall. We know that feeling from Pearl Harbor."
Daniel Ochefu, on how everything was working: "They had to choose their poison, they could have 2's from me or 3's from those guys." Or, as it turned out, both.
Oklahoma's Isaiah Cousins: "Everything fell apart, even when we got stops. They was just making everything."
Sooners coach Lon Kruger: "Got whipped in every way. We didn't have any answer for them. We would have liked to, but we didn’t."
Bridges: "We just kept guarding and guarding, and that's how it went."
Especially on Hield. He hit a 3-pointer over Arcidiacono 23 seconds into the game. He would never hit another. He finished 4-for-12, and 1-for-8 in 3-pointers.
Jenkins: "Limit his touches. Making sure guys are on the side of the floor he is on. Just pressure him, make him uncomfortable. We guard every opponent as a team. Five guys on the ball."
Arcidiacono: "Just make sure he couldn't see space, get up into him.
"We wanted fresh bodies on him."
Five minutes into the game, four different Villanova players had guarded Hield, and that number would grow to nearly everybody in a Wildcat uniform. The task was passed around like a bowl of popcorn, from Arcidiacono to Josh Hart to Jenkins to Bridges to Booth. Even to the big guys.
"Made it tough on me," Hield said."Throwing a bunch of bodies at me."
Said Wright, "He hit that first step-back three on Ryan Arcidiacono, and everybody on our team went crazy on Ryan. I don't think I've ever had more people ask me or send me suggestions on how to stop Buddy Hield going into this game. It's unbelievable.
"One of the things we tried to do was switch onto him, not specifically for switching, but to get different people playing him because he wears you out. We did it so different guys were chasing him, moving off the ball, we were giving him different looks."
There would be no letup. Thirty seconds into the second half, someone held up a Bahamian flag in the Oklahoma section, and right after that, Hield scored on a baseline drive move. Maybe the start of something.
No, it wasn’t. The telling image came with 13 minutes left in the game, Hield loose on a switch for a rare open look, and then missing badly from the 3-pount line. He slapped his hands in frustration. Oklahoma’s section had gone silent by then. So, presumably, had the entire nation of the Bahamas.
"I think at some point in the second half, like eight minutes he came out of the game," Wright said. "I thought, 'He's got to be tired. We must be getting to him now.'"
By then, the night had gone form surprising to shocking, except for the guys in blue.”When we defend and we rebound and we’re locked in as unit, I’m not really surprised,” Arcidiacono said.
So now that they’ve made history, they face history. Thirty-one years ago, Villanova won a memorable championship. Now these Wildcats want their own.
"I don't want that team to ever lose their magic. I don't think they will,” Wright said.”But I'd love our team to do it. I think it would be different if we did it."
But not all that different Saturday night.