HOUSTON, Texas – Fans don’t exactly know what to expect when their favorite teams take the court on Saturday for the Final Four.
However, a few things are common knowledge.
Buddy Hield, OU’s shooting superstar, will try every way to make it to the basket, and Villanova will do everything in its power to stop him.
“I think the guys recognize Buddy is at the core of everything we do. Buddy’s going to get that target on his back. I think the other guys, number one, they recognize what Buddy has done as being very special and they’re comfortable with that. They also recognize, too, when defenses make it tough on Buddy, they’ve got to be able to step up and take advantage of additional opportunities,” head coach Lon Kruger said.
In fact, Hield was not Villanova’s undoing the last time these two teams met.
Actually, Hield didn’t have one of his best games, but that didn’t stop the Sooners from dominating.
“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,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright.
A fact that Villanova has not overlooked.
“I think Buddy [Hield] had 17 or 18 in that game. [Isaiah] Cousins was incredible. [Jordan] Woodard, [Khadeem] Lattin played well, [Ryan] Spangler. Our guys know. I think our guys have a different perspective on this Oklahoma team than maybe the national fan base that just watched Buddy put up big numbers,” said Wright.
It seems like most of the Wildcats have taken that lesson to heart.
“You have to stop Oklahoma. You can’t just stop Buddy because they have so many other guards who can beat you off the bounce or hit the three,” said Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono.
“We can’t focus just on stopping Buddy Hield. We have to focus on stopping Oklahoma. [The other guys] can have huge games. Hield can be on the opposite wing, just chillin’, and as a big guy on the inside, they’ve got four guys around him that all are really good players. They complement each other very well. They appear to be very selfless. They don’t care who gets shots, who scores. They do it as a group,” said Villanova guard Josh Hart.
The Sooners say they aren’t taking this opportunity for granted and won’t overlook Villanova’s defense.
“They are one of the best defensive teams right now. They are locking up and making it tough on people, so we are going to have to execute Saturday and make it easy for ourselves,” said Spangler.
“I’d be nervous if I was them. But they have great guard play too, so it’s definitely going to be a battle in the back court and we’ve got to hold our own. I feel like that’s why we had the advantage when we played them in Hawaii. It’s tough to guard, that’s why when we’re moving the ball and playing great offense, it’s really hard to beat,” said guard Jordan Woodard.
While many of the veterans on OU’s team have their games down to a science, some of the younger players are already learning from the best.
Team officials say Christian James has been taken under senior Buddy Hield’s wing, and is already showing improvement in how he plays.
“He’s a work horse,” James said. “I just try to imitate so many things that he does. Even shooting the ball. He shoots the same way every time. It’s crazy. It’s just repetition and confidence. It’s always confidence with him.”
“He’s going to be good, but he has to keep working hard,” Hield said. “If you don’t work hard and be humble with everything you’re not going to make it. Time will tell, but he has to want it more than he’s ever wanted it.”
Tipoff is set for 5:09 p.m. on Saturday. The game will be broadcast live on TBS.