A storm descended on Hawaii in early December when the Oklahoma Sooners met with Villanova in an early non-conference matchup.
It was a perfect storm for the Sooners, who wound up beating top-10 Villanova, which ultimately lost only five games all season and earned No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, by 23 points. Although shooting better than 50 percent from behind the 3-point arc became more of a norm than a fluke for Oklahoma, it’s 53.8 mark in that game was 10 points better than its average.
It was Villanova that has looked completely different since Dec. 7.
The Wildcats shot 12.5 percent from behind the 3-point arc and 31.7 percent from the field 20-63. They only shot worse than that from distance once the entire season and never shot worse from the field all year.
Immediately after the game, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger called Villanova a “really good club” and said the Wildcats were “going to have a terrific year.” Kruger wasn’t wrong about either as Oklahoma prepares for Round 2 against Villanova, once again on a neutral floor. Only this time, it’ll be in the Final Four in Houston.
“We made more shots than they did,” Kruger said, putting it simply, after Oklahoma’s win.
The Wildcats’ four-guard lineup isn’t likely to miss like that again. Josh Hart, Ryan Archidiacono, Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson all shot better than 35 percent from behind the 3-point arc this season.
Against Oklahoma, the quartet combined to go 3-for-22 (13.6 percent).
That won’t happen again.
The Wildcats have shot better than 40 percent in every game this NCAA Tournament and have shot below 46.6 percent from behind the arc only once in the last four games. In the Elite 8 against Kansas, Villanova shot 22.2 percent from deep.
Through the tournament, Villanova is shooting 55.1 percent from the field and 46.3 from behind the arc. That’s almost twice as good from the field and four times as good from behind the arc than the first time these two teams met.
“The first time we played them, we had a lot of young guys coming in that didn't know what we were completely about yet,” Villanova forward Daniel Ochefu said. “The game was not ugly at all. I think throughout the course of the year, we've grown a lot. . . . It's going to be a battle. We take it upon ourselves to make the game extremely ugly.”
While the shooting woes against Oklahoma the first time around were an anomaly, Villanova’s defense – and ability to slow the pace – has become a constant factor. The Wildcats held Kansas forward Perry Ellis just four points in the Elite 8.
Coming into the tournament, Villanova had a top-20 defense that switched constantly from full-court press to zone to man. Oklahoma’s 78 points in the first meeting was the fourth-most points scored against the Wildcats all season.
Ochefu believes the same philosophy can work this time around against Oklahoma, but Villanova coach @Jay Wright knows they’ll have to do a little bit more searching for a defensive answer for Buddy Hield and an Oklahoma offense that is averaging 81 points per game in the NCAA Tournament.
“I don't know because we didn't have the answer for them,” Wright said. “They beat us good. They beat us real good, and Buddy (Hield) was unbelievable (Saturday). We're going to enjoy this one, and then, we're going to try to figure it out.”