‘Nova looks to show growth since 1st game against Oklahoma


HOUSTON (AP) — Villanova was blown out by Oklahoma in the first meeting with the Sooners this season.

That doesn’t worry the Wildcats as they prepare for a rematch in the national semifinals on Saturday. They’re looking forward to another crack at the Sooners because of how much they’ve grown since that 78-55 loss on Dec. 7.

The difference between then and now is so stark that even Oklahoma star Buddy Hield doesn’t think that game will have any bearing on Saturday’s outcome.

“It’s not a benefit because they’re a completely different team right now,” he said. “That was back in December and they had conference play and everything. So they’re a completely different team, better defensively. So I’m just looking forward to it.”

As terrible as their performance was in that game in Hawaii, watching film of it didn’t upset the Wildcats.

“We saw how bad we looked and it’s just night and day watching that game and then watching the Kansas game that we had,” Villanova’s Josh Hart said referring to the regional final. “It’s totally different. Obviously we learned from that game.”

The major difference in that contest was that Oklahoma made 14 3-pointers and Villanova was just 4 of 32 from long-range.

“There’s not much relationship to the game in Hawaii,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “They didn’t make shots, we did. That’s kind of it. I was watching film. I was hoping to see a bigger difference than that, but it wasn’t anything bigger than that. They just didn’t shoot the ball very well.”

Though the teams have both evolved since the first meeting, Villanova learned an important lesson in that game. They held Hield to 17 points, but were done in by four other players scoring in double figures.

“We can’t be too focused on stopping Buddy Hield,” Hart said. “We’ve got to focus on stopping Oklahoma.”

Villanova coach Jay Wright is glad that his team has seen Hield before and knows that while he’s a good player, he isn’t some mythical figure who can’t be slowed down. Hield is averaging 29.2 points a game in the tournament.

“If you’ve just watched the NCAA Tournament … if you only followed Buddy Hield or Oklahoma, you’d just think this guy is Superman,” Wright said. “The other thing you would think is that the other guys aren’t as good. We played him. He scored 17. We know how good he is, but we’ve been on the floor with him. But we also know how good all the other guys are because the other guys hurt us in that game.”

Kruger is impressed with how Villanova has developed since he first saw the team in December. He’s a big fan of the Wildcats’ execution and discipline and the selflessness they show on offense. Villanova has four players who average more than 10 points a game and a fifth is scoring 9.8.

“They appear to be really committed and bought in,” Kruger said. “I think along with Kansas, maybe Oregon, the last six weeks of the season are probably playing better than anyone else in the country. Maybe North Carolina in that group, as well. But, yeah, just love his team. He’s got them playing the way coaches all want their teams to play.”

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