The idea of Villanova as a serial bummer of recent Marches has gone forgotten and even obliterated. Instead, the Villanova of April 2016 goes streaming into the final reaches of the NCAA Tournament bracket like some high-brow engine. When the Wildcats turned a pretty display of basketball know-how and the commanding presence of Josh Hart into a 95-51 annihilation of Oklahoma in the first national semifinal Saturday evening, they did more than gain the school’s first appearance on the final Monday night in 31 years.
They dredged statistical memories.
On that famous night in Kentucky in April 1985, when Villanova pulled one of the most profound upsets of American sports, by 66-64 over Georgetown, it did so with a decided lack of human frailty, missing only 6 of 28 field goal attempts, only 1 of 10 after halftime. As if to emulate that in the box score if not the scoreboard, the present-day Wildcats (34-5) authored a stat sheet that deserved accompaniment from violins. In the most emphatic rout in the history of the Final Four, besting even Michigan State’s Magic Johnson-led
101-67 rout of Penn in 1979, they suffered exceedingly little error.
They missed only 14 of 49 shots, a success rate of 71.4 percent. In a cavernous NRG Stadium believed to imperil shooters, they missed only 7 of 18 three-point shots. They spread the ball around like the experienced case of cohesion they are.
“They shot the ball efficiently,” Oklahoma star Buddy Hield said.
The Wildcats got 4-for-5 shooting from forward Daniel Ochefu (10 points), 5-for-6 from guard Ryan Arcidiacono (15 points), 6-for-10 from forward Kris Jenkins (18 points) and 10-for-12 from guard Hart, 23 points as masterful for its smarts as for its hotness.
By the time all the efficiency and ball movement had concluded, Villanova had taken a 78-55 loss to Oklahoma from 117 days prior in Hawaii and unleashed a score 67 points different.
“That was just one of those games that could happen to anybody,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “I feel bad for Oklahoma, that it happened to them in the Final Four.”
“We haven’t had a game like this all year,” Oklahoma senior 7-footer Ryan Spangler said, a banner season closing down at 29-8.
“Hats off to Villanova,” Hield said.
Furthering said misery, Villanova put an unforeseen hush on Hield, a 22-year-old Bahamian lately seen raking in various national player-of-the-year honors.
Seven days after he rained down 37 picturesque points on Oregon in the West Region final, Villanova sent its defensive committee to Hield’s ribs, limited his important motion away from the ball and left him with a box-score line that seemed to have tumbleweed blowing through it.
He scored nine points on 4-for-12 shooting. He went scoreless for a 15-minute stretch of the first half before producing one dazzling drive to a reverse layup 72 seconds before halftime. He never got to the free throw line. His stardom, so prevalent through his senior year, dimmed to nil during a dead second half in which Villanova enjoyed that very rare 25-0 run, the score ballooning from 54-41 to 79-41.
Hield said, “Just credit them, what they were doing,” and, “They made it tough on me,” and, “Throwing a bunch of bodies at me.”
“We were just so locked-in on defense,” Hart said.
Ever since the Wildcats appeared in the 2009 Final Four in Detroit, they had sighed serially in March. They had not surpassed the first weekend of the tournament, with losses to St. Mary’s, George Mason, North Carolina, Connecticut and North Carolina State, three of those as either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Their intent to continue deluging such images with their current prowess showed early with a 21-4 binge on Oklahoma that produced a 37-21 lead.