(2) Villanova has reached the Final Four for the first since 2009 and will match up against (2) Oklahoma at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX tomorrow. The Wildcats are coming off of a 5 point win against #1 overall seed Kansas, where they were able to limit All-Big 12 First Team forward Perry Ellis to 4 points. Jay Wright and company will try to slow down another All-Big 12 First Team member in star Buddy Hield, who is averaging 25 points per game and has a 50% field goal percentage, a three point percentage of 47%, and free throw percentage of 88%, which has him drawing comparisons to NBA star Stephen Curry.
The last time the two teams met was in early December during the Pearl Harbor Classic in Hawaii when the Sooners blew out the Wildcats, 78-55. Hield tallied 18 points but it was senior guard Isaiah Cousins who scored a game-high 19 points for Oklahoma. ‘Nova, who heavily relies on three pointers, shot 4-32 that night from long range although senior Ryan Arcidiacono led the way with two three’s of his own.
‘Nova finished the regular season with a 27-4 record and are a much different team than they were in the Classic. Although they lost in the Big East Championship Final by two against Seton Hall, they’ve won four straight tournament games and are playing some of their best basketball of the season right now.
A big reason for that success is Nova’s defensive prowess. Against the Jayhawks, the Wildcats forced 16 turnovers and limited them to 59 points, which is pretty good, as Kansas averaged 81 points per game this season. Furthermore redshirt freshman Mikal Bridges had a game-high 5 steals and played solid defense in his 26 minutes of play. Bridges’s number will most likely be called upon again against the Sooners and if ‘Nova wants to repeat this performance they'll need a similar outing from the Great Valley graduate.
Sharp-shooting junior Kris Jenkins has also helped ‘Nova go on this March Madness run. The Maryland native has shot 57% from the field, 46% from three, and averaged 15.3 points per game during the tournament. If Jenkins can continue on this hot streak, his sweet stroke may just be enough to get ‘Nova into the next round.
That being said, Oklahoma has been just as good. Head coach Lon Kruger has led the Sooners to a 29-7 record and they are coming off of a 12 point victory over (1) Oregon in the Elite Eight. Hield is obviously their star, but Cousins, junior Jordan Woodard, and senior Ryan Spangler also play a major role for the West Regional Champions.
Cousins and Woodard make up Oklahoma’s backcourt. The two average 13 and 12.8 points, respectively and will most certainly be guarded by Arcidiacono, freshman Jalen Brunson, sophomore Phil Booth, and Bridges.
Spangler is fourth on Oklahoma in scoring with 10.3 points per game and leads the team in rebounds per game with 9.2. ‘Nova’s senior, Daniel Ochefu, will have to battle down in the paint with Spangler, although he will have added assistance from reserve big man Darryl Reynolds. The battle of the bigs in this game will be a key factor into who will advance on to the Final.
Photo: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
-(1) Villanova faces (5) West Virginia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament