By Kevin Sweeney
Last night, 2 teams locked up berths in the Final Four and kept their national championship aspirations alive.
In the earlier game, Oklahoma used a big first half to knock off top seeded Oregon in convincing fashion, 80-68. National player of the year front-runner Buddy Hield perhaps cemented himself as the nation’s top player with a 37 point outburst highlighted by 8 3-pointers. Hield led a 3 point barrage from the Sooners that knocked down 12-24 from downtown. After a big win over Duke on Thursday, Oregon was unable to deliver a similar performance on Saturday, digging themselves a deep hole early and never really recovering. After 2 days of controversy regarding the post-game conversation between Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Oregon leading scorer Dillon Brooks, Brooks was unable to get going, scoring just 7 points and turning it over 3 times.
In the nightcap, Villanova knocked off Kansas 64-59 and win the South regional. After weeks of criticism of this Villanova team as to whether they would follow in the footsteps of underwhelming NCAA Tournament performances in the past, the Wildcats finally were able to shut down the doubters. In a game that was hotly contested the entire way, with neither team ever holding a double digit lead, Villanova used big runs in the middle of each half to keep the #1 overall seed Jayhawks at bay. It was a 13-0 run in the middle of the first half that gave the Wildcats a 9 point lead with under 5 minutes to go in the first half. In the second, Villanova responded to Kansas taking their largest lead of the game with a 10-0 run to take back a 5 point edge. In a game in which Kansas star forward Perry Ellis scored just 4 points, the Jayhawks relied heavily on the guard trio of Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham, and Wayne Selden to carry the load. They answered the bell, cutting the deficit to 2 with under a minute to play. But on the ensuing possession, Graham dove to the ground to grab a loose ball but was whistled for his 5 foul for tripping Josh Hart. Villanova made all 6 of their free throws down the stretch to seal the deal.
Looking ahead to the matchup between these 2 teams, I think it will come down to stopping Buddy Hield. I don’t think that their is a single team in the country who can beat Oklahoma when Buddy Hield scores like he did last night. For Villanova to knock off the Sooners, they’ll need to hold Buddy in check.