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Josh Hart leads Villanova blowout of Oklahoma in Final Four

Josh Hart drives inside and eludes Oklahoma's Jamuni

Josh Hart drives inside and eludes Oklahoma's Jamuni McNeace in the first half Saturday night in Houston. Hart shot 10-for-12 and had 23 points in Villanova's rout. Credit: Getty Images / Chris Steppig

HOUSTON — At Villanova, the Wildcats’ 1985 NCAA title victory over Georgetown and Patrick Ewing is the stuff of legend, a performance widely known as “The Perfect Game.”

On Saturday night at NRG Stadium, the current Wildcats woke up those echoes with a shooting performance for the ages in a 95-51 victory over Oklahoma in the national semifinals. Villanova shot 71.4 percent from the field (35-for-49) and became the first team from the Big East since it reorganized three years ago to reach the NCAA title game.

The Wildcats (34-5) will face North Carolina (33-6) in the championship game on Monday night.

“That was one of those games that could happen to anybody,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said without realizing it was the greatest rout in Final Four history. “We made every shot, end-of-the-shot-clock shots. We just threw it up and it went in, and we were very dialed in defensively.”

Josh Hart had a brilliant game for Villanova, scoring 23 points, shooting 10-for-12 and adding eight rebounds and four assists. Senior point guard Ryan Arcidiacono was equally efficient with 15 points and 5-for-6 shooting. Kris Jenkins had 18 points and eight rebounds, and Villanova got 11 points from freshman Mikal Bridges and 10 each from center Daniel Ochefu and guard Phil Booth.

Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, who was the leading scorer in the nation this season, was held to nine points and 4-for-12 shooting, including a 1-for-8 effort from three-point range. Jordan Woodard had 12 points for the Sooners (29-8), who shot 31.7 percent (19-for-60) and were outscored 31-11 in points off turnovers.

Hield dropped a three-point attempt over Arcidiacono to open the scoring, and the tournament’s leading scorer with a 29.3-point average seemed poised for another big game. But Hield struggled against Villanova’s aggressive, switching man-to-man defense. He was limited to seven first-half points and 3-for-8 shooting and never scored again after making the first bucket of the second half.

“Credit to what they were doing,” Hield said. “They made it tough, throwing multiple defenders at me. They played terrific tonight. Hats off to them. They deserved it . . . They were aggressive on defense and got turnovers that went the other way.”

Villanova lost to the Sooners by 23 points on Dec. 7 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and shot 4-for-32 from three-point range. But Hart and Arcidiacono lit it up from the beginning, and the Wildcats led by as many as 16 points before Hart’s three-pointer gave them a 42-28 halftime lead.

After nine early lead changes, Villanova trailed by a point when it began a 12-0 run that included five points from Jenkins to build a 28-17 lead. During that span, Oklahoma committed five turnovers and missed three shots from the field and two free-throw attempts. Many of those turnovers were created when the Wildcats got in the way of passes to Hield.

“We threw a lot of guys at him,’’ Hart said. “Ryan, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth. I was up in him in the first half, and he drove and [a teammate] took a charge . . . We love hitting shots, but the program is built on being dialed in defensively.”

In the second half, OU put together a 9-4 surge that cut the deficit to single digits at 46-37 on a four-point possession by Woodard. Fouled while attempting a three-pointer, Woodard made the first two free throws, missed the third but got to the rim for his rebound and a putback.

Instead of a turning point for the Sooners, that became a launching pad for another huge Villanova run that began with a three-point play by Hart that restored a double-digit lead.

“They got a couple buckets, and we never got the momentum back,” Oklahoma coach Lon Krueger said. “We lost our composure and things came apart.”

From there, the Wildcats made all manner of shots in a 33-4 run that included 25 straight points at the end for a 79-41 lead as the Sooners went scoreless for a span of 6:02.

Villanova’s Wright spoke to 1985 Wildcats coach Rollie Massimino, who is at home in Florida tending to family health issues. Wright said, “If there’s any way he can be here [Monday night], he will be here.”

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