HOUSTON >> Paybacks are … a trip to the national championship game.
Nearly four months ago, Oklahoma put a 23-point whipping on Villanova in the Pearl Harbor Invitational in Hawaii.
The Wildcats got even on a much grander stage and with a lot more at stake.
Josh Hart led six players in double figures with a game-high 23 points and spearheaded a defensive effort that held Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield in check and powered the sixth-ranked Wildcats to a shocking 95-51 romp over the Sooners in the first game of the national semifinal doubleheader at NRG Stadium.
Hart connected on 10-of-12 shots as the Wildcats shot a blistering 71 percent overall (35-for-49) and 61 percent from 3-point range (11-for-18). Hart also pulled down eight rebounds and handed out four assists. Ryan Arcidiacono added 15 points and three assists. Kris Jenkins (18 points, eight rebounds), Michael Bridges (11 points) and Daniel Ochefu (10 points, six rebounds) and Phil Booth (10 points)also reached double digits for the Wildcats.
With his second basket, Ochefu became the seventh player in Villanova history to score 1,000 points and grab 900 rebounds.
However, as impressive as the offense was, the defense was even better and a big reason the Wildcats (34-5) were able to set a program record for wins in a season and earn a spot in Monday night’s national championship game against the winner of the North Carolina-Syracuse game.
It’s the first time the Wildcats will play for the national title since winning it all in 1985.
Hield came into the game averaging 29 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. The 6-4 All-American guard did not come close to that number thanks to the relentless efforts of Hart and Bridges, who took turns smothering the leading scorer in the tournament.
Villanova limited Hield to nine points on 4-for-12 shooting overall and 1-for-8 marksmanship from 3-point range. Jordan Woodard was the only Oklahoma player to reach double figures. He had 12 points.
The team that scorched the nets against UNC Asheville, Iowa and Miami reappeared in Houston and the Sooners quickly discovered it’s not good to be on the receiving end when the Wildcats are shooting lights out.
Hart was nearly perfect from the field, Arcidiacono nearly was perfect and the Wildcats had a commanding 42-28 lead on the strength of 66 percent shooting overall and 54 percent from 3-point range.
Overall, Villanova shot 18-for-27 and 6-for-11 from 3-point range. Hart connected on 7 of 8 shots including a dagger trey right before the half. He had 15 at the break. Arcidiacono was 4-for-4 and that included two from deep and tallied 10 points in the first 20 minutes.
Villanova was able to shoot such a high percentage because it was able to get to the rim. Of Villanova’s 42 points, 22 were in the paint. The Wildcats also had seven second-chance points at the break.
While the offense dispelled the myth that teams can’t shoot in a dome, Villanova’s defense showed it knew how to deal with Hield: Don’t let him get the ball. He had just seven points on 3-for-8 shooting overall and 1-for-5 accuracy from 3-point land.
The rest of the Sooners weren’t much better. As a team, Oklahoma shot 12-for-25 and 4-for-11 from deep. Villanova also forced nine turnovers and turned those mistakes into 15 points.
Villanova stumbled briefly and Oklahoma made a run to get the deficit under double digits (46-37), but the comeback bid was short-lived. The Wildcats hit six straight shots and used an 10-0 run over a 1:48 stretch to increase its lead to 64-41 and never took its foot off the gas pedal to earn a spot in Monday night’s national championship game.