There was no way to describe it — or even believe what you were witnessing — whether you were among Joe Biden and the 75,000 inside Houston’s NRG Stadium or simply watching from your living room. Villanova’s95-51 destruction of an Oklahoma team that had whipped them by 23 points backin Decemberto advance to tonight’s National Championship Game vs North Carolina was mesmerizing.
But old timers will note it’s not the first time the Wildcats have put together such a dominant performance under the NCAA glare. In fact the first time the Cats made it to the title game — ultimately losing to UCLA in Houston in 1971 — the only reason they got there was by avenging a regular season loss. In the East Regional final Howard Porter and the Wildcats took apart previously unbeaten city rival Penn — which had beaten them 78-70 earlier — 90-47.
This was at least as impressive. Shooting a torrid 71.4 percent from the floor while limiting Buddy Hield and company to just 31.7percent in setting a record for the most lopsided game in Final Four history, Jay Wright’s 34-5 team was in command from the time it strung together a 12-0 first half run to go up 28-17. Then, just when it appeared the Sooners might be on verge of climbing back from a 42-28 half deficit, the Wildcats an emphatic stamp on the game, going on a dazzling 25-0 run over the next seven minutes to settle the issue.
By the time the rout was over — and Nova’s three senior walk-ons were playing out the string —the only question remaining was will they have anything left for the tall and talented Tar Heels?
“That was just one of those games that could happen to anybody and I feel bad for Oklahoma that it happened to them in the Final Four,” said Wright, diplomatically, after Josh Hart (23 points, 8 rebounds), Kris Jenkins (18) and the rest completed a incredible 67-point turnaround from their previous meeting. “We had one of those games where we just make every shot.It was kind of similar to our game in Hawaii when They made everything (shooting 14-for-26, 54 percent, from behind the arc) and we couldn’t make anything (going 4-for-32 on threes). It was simply one of those nights.
“Tonight we were very dialed in defensively.”
On the first possession of the game Hield drilled a step-back 3-pointer. It turned out to be his only trey of the game, as he missed his last seven three-balls and finished just 4-for-12 for 9 points, his second lowest game of the season.
“Today we were just so dialed in,” explained Hart, who’ll now try to do his thing against Carolina’s imposing front line of Brice Johnson, Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks. “We saw what they did to us in Pearl Harbor and were dialed in defensively, ready to step up for each other.”
The Wildcats swarmed Hield whenever he got the ball, forcing bad shots which in turn often led to easy transition hoops at the other end. And by knocking down shots while not turning the ball over, they completely negated Oklahoma’s lethal fast break, which further frustrated the Sooners, who managed to shoot only 6-for-27 from long distance.
The end result was Villanova’s fourth blowout in five tournament games, setting theCats up for the ultimate test vs. a North Carolina team that was ranked No. 1 in the pre-season but hadn’t live up to its billing until now.
This will mark the fourth time since 2005 they’ve met in the tournament — including the 2009 Final Four — with Carolina winning them all. Most recent came in 2013 when Nova freshman Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu fell to the Heels, 78-71 in the first round.
In fact, only once in six tries has Villanova beaten UNC in the Big Dance — 56-44 in the 1985 Southeast Regional Final in Birmingham, AL. Everyone knows what happened after that.
Monday at 9:19 on TBS, Jay Wright’s team will try to match what that Rollie Massimino club did in Lexington.
“That whole team brings that magical underdog feeling, like anything’s possible,” said Wright, who’s hoping Massimino — dealing with family health issues — will be on hand. “Those guys are so special.I don’t want that team to ever lose their magic and I don’t think they will.
“But I’d love our team to do it.”
Logic says North Carolina is simply too big and too skilled for this team, most of which probably couldn’t crack Roy Williams rotation. Then again there’s been nothing logical about the way Villanova has gone about its business — especially Saturday.
So why start now?