It was an unexpected lambasting. Worse than when NAS dropped Ether. More insulting than when LL purposely ended Cannibus' brief, verbally-gifted rap career. More disrespectful than when Ice Cube dropped No Vaseline.
That’s because nobody expected Villanova to play a perfect game -- again. In 1985, an underdog Villanova team accomplished the impossible and dethroned the mighty Georgetown Hoyas by shooting a stupid 79 percent from the field.
On Saturday, coach Jay Wright’s Wildcats turned back the clock and registered the largest margin of victory in a Final Four history that dates back to 1939, shooting a record 71 percent, topped only by Rollie Massimino's mythical squad.
That golden-era Big East team emerged from behind the shadows of more popular teams such as Syracuse, St. John's and Georgetown, then continued to cast its own shadow over every Nova team to grace the tournament since. It was supposed to be an unduplicated feat, but this Nova team came awfully close in their 95-51 thrashing of favorite Oklahoma.
“It was one of those nights," Wright said on TBS following the game.
Wright has to feel vindicated after receiving so much national and in-house criticism for first and second round failures in past tournaments.
“I feel bad for Oklahoma," he added. "We all have those nights. They had a great season...When they beat us so bad early in the year...we had a lot of fear entering this game”
The game started with Nova’s fear, but ended with Oklahoma in shock.
(Photo Credit: thebiglead.com)
“I’m in disbelief, as they are,” said Final Four analyst Grant Hill, as the TBS cameras flashed on the Oklahoma Sooners bench with about 7:40 left in Saturday’s clash. The NCAA’s probable Player of the Year Buddy Hield sat on the bench holding a towel looking totally perplexed at what had just transpired.
Despite the praise, accolades and sweat bestowed upon Hield as he captivated Big Dance viewers, Villanova junior Josh Hart was the supreme baller on the court in Houston. Hart was on his Kanye; longer, better, faster, stronger than anyone else on the court.
As Reggie Miller said, “It was Philadelphia brand basketball.”
Hart, who finished with a game-high 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting to go along with eight rebounds, had 22 of those points with 12 minutes still left in the game, helping the Wildcats maintain a 15-point lead of 56-41 at that point.
Hart was the game's most aggressive perimeter player and scored in a variety of ways. He seemed more physical than anyone Oklahoma had in its backcourt, outscoring Hield 15-7 in the first half and locking down the scoring machine with the help of a constantly switching defense.
Hield was a non-factor in this Big East demolition. Hield had the same number of first-half points against VCU a few weeks ago before exploding for 29 in the second half to to help Oklahoma advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
There would be none of that on Saturday.
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
“Everybody locked in,” Hart told TBS after the game. "It wasn’t one guy (that shut him down)...everybody played together defensively as a team.”
The contest was actually back and forth for the first few minutes and then Villanova went on a 21-4 run to take a 37-21 lead with 3:51 left in the half. The 16-point deficit was Oklahoma’s largest deficit of the season against any team.
The 14-point halftime deficit (42-28) was also the first time all season the Sooners have trailed by double digits at the half. As the game progressed, it only got worse for Oklahoma and Lon Kruger, who was making his second trip to the Final Four since getting there in 1994 with Florida.
Grant Hill told me last week and then Greg Gumbel told America before the game, that “This is not the same Villanova team that lost to Oklahoma by 23 in December at Pearl Harbor (78-55)."
In that game, the Sooners made a season-high 14 3-pointers, including four apiece from Isaiah Cousins, who had 19, and Hield (18 points).
Bill Raftery told me last week that this was a contest of perimeter teams and it would come down to who made more shots. In the last meeting, half of the Sooners field goals were 3-pointers, including 8 of 12 from behind the arc in the second half.
Villanova was an abysmal 4-of-32 from three-point land at Pearl Harbor.
Hart, senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono, and sophomore guard Phil Booth combined for a dismal 8-of-28 shooting.
Hart and Arcidiacono began Saturday’s game by hitting 11-of-12 combined shots. When Arcidiacono hit a three to extend Nova’s commanding lead to 72-41 with a little over 8:00 left left in the game, everybody in the building and watching at home knew Villanova would be returning to the NCAA title game for the first time since Reagan's administration said "no to drugs."
It was the perfect ending for Nova, who kept pouring it on at 90-49 with 2:39 left, leaving time for Jay Wright to allow his three senior walk-ons to get some burn.
In true March Madness fashion, Nova has surpassed everyone's expectations and reached the finals, erasing the sting of premature evacuations in recent tournaments and remaining a treasured and powerful reminder of when The Big East was king.