The Buddy System, which had carried Oklahoma basketball to impressive feats on most nights for 104 consecutive games, wheezed and gasped when facing Saturday’s first-half pressure from the Villanova defense.
And the second half was even worse.
The Sooners, who carved out a double-digit deficit by intermission, eventually succumbed to the Wildcats’ payback attempt 95-51 in a Final Four rematch of a regular-season game that Oklahoma dominated in December.
Consider this one payback, with interest. And the interest was compounded on a minute-by-minute basis during a second half that saw the Wildcats unleash a 25-0 run before emptying their bench down the stretch.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Star-Telegram
This time around, it was the Wildcats (34-5), not the Sooners (29-8), who could not miss from beyond the arc. It was the Sooners, not the Wildcats, who buried themselves in early turnovers and never recovered. And it will be Villanova, rather than Oklahoma, that competes in Monday’s championship game of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Villanova dictated everything on both ends of the floor. They were great. We didn’t respond to it. We got whipped in every way.
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger
The Wildcats won in the most lopsided rout in Final Four history because they beat the Sooners at their own game. Villanova shot 61.1 percent from 3-point range, the Sooners’ preferred distance, and connected on a blistering 71.4 percent from the field for the game (35-of-49). They authored a 67-point turnaround from Dec. 7 when the Wildcats fell to Oklahoma 78-55 in Honolulu.
Villanova posted the highest shooting percentage by any Final Four team since … Villanova, which set the record (78.6 percent) during a 66-64 victory over Georgetown in the 1985 championship game.
Oklahoma countered with a dismal 22.2 percent performance from beyond the arc that included a 15-minute scoreless stretch by guard Buddy Hield, college basketball’s national player of the year.
Hield, a senior from the Bahamas, entered the game with a 25.4 scoring average but made only 1 of 8 shots from beyond the arc. He finished with nine points, falling short of double digits for only the second time in 37 games this season.
71.4 Villanova’s shooting percentage against OU, the second-highest mark in Final Four history and eclipsed only by Villanova’s 78.6 effort while defeating Georgetown in the 1985 national championship game.
His teammates were not much better on a night when OU was outscored 38-20 in the paint and lost 17 turnovers that resulted in 31 Villanova points.
OU coach Lon Kruger called the rout “embarrassing,” particularly after holding the Wildcats to a 31.7 percent shooting performance in December.
“Villanova dictated everything on both ends of the floor,” Kruger said. “They were great. We didn’t respond to it. We got whipped in every way.”
For the two days leading into the game, Villanova players and coach Jay Wright stressed that their team was a work-in-progress in December that did not morph into a finished product until the Wildcats began their postseason run. They backed that claim Saturday.
Oklahoma, on the other hand, endured a dismal swan song from its four-player veteran nucleus that started together for the 105th consecutive contest in NRG Stadium: Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard and Ryan Spangler.
The 44-point margin marked their most lopsided loss in three seasons together as starters and the biggest loss in the NCAA Tournament since Syracuse beat Montana by 47 in a first-round matchup in 2013.
“We just could never get a string of stops together,” said Spangler, who watched the Wildcats make 66.7 percent of their first-half shots before improving to 77.3 percent (17 of 22) after intermission. “They had a great first half. I didn’t think they could do that again. But they did.”
The prime marksman was guard Josh Wright, who made 10 of 12 shots en route to a game-high 23 points. He also was part of a multi-player tandem that put the muzzle on OU’s outside shooting trio of Hield (4 of 12), Woodard (3 of 10) and Cousins (3 of 14).
67 Point turnaround from the result in the teams’ Dec. 7 meeting, when Oklahoma scored a 78-55 victory in Honolulu
“Credit them. They made it tough on me, throwing a lot of bodies at me,” Hield said. “They just played terrific. I feel they can go win it all.”
That is the plan, said Wright, who cited the Sooners’ lopsided victory in December as emotional fuel for his team.
“We knew they could beat us bad, so we had a lot of fear coming into this game,” Wright said. “I feel badly for Oklahoma. This was just one of those nights.”
It was a night Villanova will be hard-pressed to duplicate in Monday’s championship game. It was a night that will leave a lasting scar on an Oklahoma program still in quest of its first national championship.
“It’s very disappointing,” Kruger said. “We own that. We’re not shying away from that. I’m disappointed for Buddy and the seniors, going out this way. They’ll remember this.”
So will every college basketball fan who follows March Madness. For a long time to come.
North Carolina vs. Villanova
8 p.m. Monday, TBS