HOUSTON — Not only the eyes of Texas but of the entire college basketball world have been on Oklahoma shooting star Buddy Hield this week. You can add the eyes of every defender in a Villanova uniform in the NCAA national semifinals Saturday night at NRG Stadium.
It’s not that the Wildcats (33-5) can ignore the rest of the Sooners (29-7). They did that in a 78-55 loss to OU on Dec. 7 at Pearl Harbor and paid for it when Oklahoma had five players score in double figures. But the way Villanova plays a switching man-to-man defense requires everyone to keep an eye on Hield and understand where the defensive help is coming from.
Wildcats guard Josh Hart expects to draw the opening defensive assignment against Hield, but that’s just a starting point.
“I did it last game,” Hart said of Hield’s 18 points and 6-for-17 shooting effort. “But a lot of times, it’s about the other guys. It’s him not seeing me up on him but seeing those other guys loading to him. I might start off on him, but it’s going to be the whole team that has to guard him.”
You can bet the Wildcats will consider it a job well done if they again hold Hield to 18 points, 11 below his average in the NCAA Tournament. Wildcats wing man Kris Jenkins said the team reviewed video of the loss to the Sooners and determined that it wasn’t their defense that limited Hield, who on Friday received the U.S. Basketball Writers Association award as player of the year.
“When we watched the film, we noticed he just missed shots,” Jenkins said. “That game could have been a lot worse than it was. This game we’re going to rely on being a way better defense, being tougher and being together. We feel that will get us over the hump even if we’re not making shots because we’ve done it in the past.”
Villanova coach Jay Wright said preparing for Hield is much like preparing for Providence stars Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn or Seton Hall’s Isaiah Whitehead in the Big East. The major difference is Hield’s skill without the ball.
“What’s unique about Buddy is that he moves without the basketball at a speed and with a level of intelligence no one else we’ve played against does,” Wright said. “That’s what’s going to make him a great pro. He lulls you to sleep, he stands still. Then the burst of speed with which he comes back behind the ball, you just don’t play against anybody like that.”
Freshman Mikal Bridges said everybody on Villanova’s perimeter will spend time guarding Hield at some point. The key simply is trusting that there is help behind them and that everyone is alert to when they have to switch. Senior Ryan Arcidiacono warned that the Wildcats can’t let themselves get frustrated when Hield makes the sort of improbable shot that is his trademark.
“He gets the ball in transition and isn’t afraid to shoot it from anywhere on the floor,” Arcidiacono said. “He makes step-back jumpers. There’s going to be times in the game where we’re going to play great defense, and at the end of the [shot] clock, he’s going to make a step-back three. We’re just going to have to say, ‘Hey, we worked him for that long, and hopefully we can do better the next time.’ ”