HOUSTON — Just 23 seconds into the game, as his first 3-point shot settled into the net, NRG Stadium looked like it might be another of Buddy Heild’s postseason playgrounds.
Eight minutes later, with Oklahoma ahead of Villanova by a point, the teams had traded the lead 10 times and it seemed certain college basketball fans were in for a classic.
And then it all came crashing down for OU. Really, really badly.
The Wildcats scored the next 12 points as the Sooners committed five consecutive turnovers. The Villanova lead grew to 16.
“They popped us,” said OU coach Lon Kruger.
Then it happened again in the second half, only much worse.
“They popped us again,” Kruger added.
The Sooners’ spectacular 29-8 season collapsed hard in the Final Four, a 95-51 defeat at the hands of a 34-5 Villanova team that could do no wrong.
The 44-point margin was the largest in a national semifinal in NCAA Tournament history.
“They just played great tonight,” Hield said. “They deserved it.”
Villanova moves on to play the Syracuse-North Carolina winner in Monday night’s national championship game.
“One of the best teams I ever played in college,” Hield said.
Oklahoma, on the other hand, gets to look itself in the mirror, losing so thoroughly to a team it beat by 23 in Hawaii back on Dec. 7.
“It’s extra disappointing,” Kruger said, “but these guys, they’ll bounce back.”
Both teams stood toe-to-toe during the first eight minutes, battling back and forth with OU forging a 17-16 lead. But that ended with a splat. OU committed turnovers on five straight possessions and a trip to the title game began to slip away.
“We were very careless with the ball during that time,” Kruger said. “They made some shots, created a little bit of a margin.
“Still, in the first half, you always feel like you’re going to come back and do things better, yet we didn’t for any stretch of time.”
The Wildcats shot 67 percent in the first half and led 42-28.
“They had a great first half,” said OU senior Ryan Spangler. “They didn’t miss very many shots. I didn’t think they could do that again. But they did.”
‘Nova shot 77 percent in the second half and finished the game at 71.4 percent (35-of-49). That field goal percentage is second in Final Four history, behind only the 1985 national championship game — when Villanova shot 78.6 percent to shock Georgetown.
During a six-minute stretch of the second half, Villanova outscored the Sooners 25-0. In that fateful span, OU was 0-for-8 from the floor with four turnovers. With 7:04 to play, the Sooners trailed 79-41.
“Well,” Kruger said, “it becomes embarrassing right there.”
Oklahoma, meanwhile, shot 20 percent from the field in the second half (7-of-35) and just 12.5 percent from 3-point range (2-of-16) as the lead grew to 44.
That included an abysmal shooting performance from OU’s big three: Hield (who finished with nine points on 4-of-12 shooting, 1-of-8 from 3), Isaiah Cousins (eight points on 3-of-14 shooting, 2-of-8 from 3) and Jordan Woodard (OU’s only double-figure scorer with 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting, 2-of-6 from 3).
“It’s just tough, playing like that,” Cousins said. “… Everything fell apart. We couldn’t make anything.”
Said Hield, “Credit them, what they were doing. They made it tough on me.”
OU was just as bad on defense.
Six ‘Nova player scored in double figures (Woodard, with 12, was the only Sooner), led by 23 from Josh Hart (who shot 10-of-12), 18 from Kris Jenkins (6-of-10), 15 from Ryan Arcidiacono (5-of-6), 11 from Mikal Bridges (3-of-4) and 10 each from Daniel Ochefu (4-of-5) and Phil Booth (4-of-6).
Many of those were uncontested layups on dribble penetration.
“It was a combination of the two,” Kruger said. “Certainly, defensively we didn’t do a very good job. But certainly, Villanova had a lot to do with that.”