Maybe you didn't believe it when Villanova went into half-time leading 42-28, you had to believe when the 'Cats were sending in #BenchMob with more than a minute left. With a more-than-40-point lead late in the second half, the Wildcats were putting on an absolute clinic against the team that had delivered their most lopsided loss of the season in December. Villanova held Oklahoma's star Buddy Hield to just 9 points in what will go down as a historic 95-51 victory.
"I'm happy we had one of those games where we just make every shot," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. "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.
"We were very dialed in defensively. We did a great job. But they're a great team."
Villanova has not returned to the NCAA Tournament Final since they won it all in 1985. This will be the school's third trip to the final game, with the other prior final also in Houston, when Howard Porter led the 1971 team in an upset bid over John Wooden's powerhouse UCLA Bruins, falling just short of glory.
When the final buzzer went off, Villanova had won by 44 points, the largest margin of victory in an NCAA national semifinal game. They will move on to play the winner of the second game today, either North Carolina or Syracuse, in the Championship game on Monday night.
"I think at halftime I felt good, like we were focused in and we were playing good basketball," Wright stated. "I didn't think it was ours at that point, but I felt good that what we decided to do was working.
"I told the team at halftime, All right, they're going to come back and make a run, which they did at the start of the second half. About three minutes to go, Baker Dunleavy said, 'Do you want to put the walk-ons in?'"
They blew 10-points past the previous record of 34, reached by Magic Johnson's Michigan State team in a win over Penn in 1979, and also by Cincinnati over Oregon State in 1963. The Wildcats are averaging a margin of victory of 24.2 points in this tournament, pacing ahead of the prior record (with a 3-game minimum) of 23.75 points set by UCLA in 1967.
Josh Hart led the Wildcats with 23 points, scoring 15 of those in the first half, leading a group of six players who scored in the double-digits. Kris Jenkins (18), Ryan Arcidiacono (15), Mikal Bridges (11), Daniel Ochefu (10) and Phil Booth (10) were the other top scorers for a very balanced Villanova attack. They missed just five of 22 shots in the second half. More importantly, the Wildcats' defense was key, ending Sooners' possessions and creating some big turnovers to keep the momentum swinging toward the Main Line.
"When you have a coach that's been through it, it all trickles down from him," Hart explained. "We have five great seniors who, you know, the whole week were just focused on Villanova basketball, being dialed in, playing Villanova basketball for 40 minutes."
Oklahoma's star guard from the Bahamas averaged more than 25 points per game this season, had scored in double digits in the four prior tournament games, including two performances with more than 35 points. Today was his second-lowest scoring game of the season.
"Just credit them, what they was doing. Made it tough on me," Hield said. "Throwing a bunch of bodies at me. Just couldn't get it going.
"Yeah, they were aggressive on defense. They got some turnovers, went the other way. We couldn't capitalize when they had us in the halfcourt. They just keep making good shots"
Everyone took a turn guarding Hield.
"We had everybody from Daniel Ochefu, our five man guarding him, Darryl Reynolds guarded him. We did it so different guys were chasing him, moving off the ball, we were giving him different looks," Wright added.
Oklahoma's Jordan Woodard was the only Sooner in double-digits with 12 points. He also had one of the few bright spots for his team, when he streaked into the lane to put back the rebound of his own missed free-throw for two points.
Villanova also out-rebounded their opponent 32-29. The 'Cats had 12 steals and turned their opponent over 17 times in the contest. The Sooners shot a miserable 31.7% from the field, including a 6-of-27 performance (22.2%) from three-point range.
Ochefu also reached a personal milestone in the game, scoring his 1,000th career point with the Wildcats early in the contest.
The narrative has been that Villanova is playing for the Big East -- it's reincarnation as a league of private schools without big time football. Wright said that he was happy that the Big East was in the Finals, as much as he was that his Wildcats were the team to get them there."[T]here's a lot of great basketball schools. We all got together," he explained. "That's just what we are. We're basketball schools. We make all our decisions athletically about basketball. That's our lead sport. We just wanted to get together and see where we fit in this world of football.
"We don't have a goal to be the greatest league in the world. We're authentic. We're all basketball schools. We're in metropolitan areas. It's the biggest sport."
That said, Wright doesn't hold anything against the football schools of the world.
"I'm a huge college football fan. I love it. I met the athletic director from LSU and I said, I can't wait to come down and see a game. I love it."
Jay Wright has never faced UNC just three times -- all in NCAA Tournament games -- and he has never defeated the Tarheels. Against Syracuse, Wright is 12-9 all-time with the Wildcats.
In this season, though, its hard not to believe that anyone could win.