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Villanova, Oklahoma qualify for Final Four

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Villanova, Oklahoma qualify for Final Four

The first matchup for the Final Four is set. Villanova outlasted Kansas 64-59 to win the Midwest Regional in Louisville, Kentucky.

Earlier on Saturday, Oklahoma hammered Oregon 80-68 in the West Regional final in Anaheim, California. Villanova will take on Oklahoma in Houston next Saturday.

Villanova 64, Kansas 59

Kansas was the overall top seed in the NCAA Tournament, but it was second-seeded Villanova who prevailed. The Wildcats, who had won their three previous tournament games by an average of 21 points, used desire and defense to derail the Jayhawks.

Villanova’s aggressive defense held Perry Ellis, the senior go-to leader, to only four points. Ellis, who averaged 17.2 points, made only one of five shots the entire game. They also forced 16 Jayhawk turnovers, while making only nine of their own.

Kansas led 16-14 when Villanova’s Jalen Brunson nailed a three-pointer to give them the lead. They steadily built upon the margin and led at halftime, 32-25.

The Jayhawks started the second half aggressively and quickly narrowed the gap to three in the first minute. Villanova steadied and maintained the lead until Ellis made his only basket with 13:24 left to put Kansas back on top 37-36.

It grew to 45-40, before the Wildcats punched back with a 10-0 run, punctuated by a Josh Hart three-pointer, forcing Kansas Coach Bill Self to call a timeout. The Jayhawks had two chances to tie the game in the final 90 seconds, but a missed three-pointer by Wayne Selden, Jr. and a turnover by DeVonte’ Graham were costly.

Six free throws in the final 33 seconds, four by Ryan Arcidiacono and two by Brunson, ensured the Villanova victory.

Three Wildcat players scored 13 points to lead the team in scoring. Arcidiacono, Hart and Kris Jenkins provided balanced scoring for Villanova.

Kansas was paced by Graham with 17. Selden and Frank Mason III had 16.

“Kansas is a great team this year, but a great program traditionally, especially under Bill Self” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright. “You know when you play them they’re never going to give it away. They are going to make every right play down to the last second.”

In this case, it was Villanova who made all the right plays. The game was their second-most important victory in the state of Kentucky. In 1985, the Wildcats pulled off probably the greatest championship game upset when they topped Georgetown in Lexington.

Kansas finishes the season at 33-5. Villanova is also 33-5 and goes to the Final Four to play the Oklahoma Sooners.

Oklahoma 80, Oregon 68

Buddy Hield put on a spectacular shooting exhibition on Saturday, leading the Oklahoma Sooners past the Oregon Ducks. Hield (pronounced “healed”) scored 37 points on 13 of 20 shooting, including eight of 13 from beyond the three-point arc.

The senior from Freeport, Bahamas got it going early and never let up. His first three-pointer came with 56 seconds elapsed in the game. The shot put the Sooners in the lead and they would never look back.

Hield connected again to give Oklahoma a 37-21 lead with 4:29 left in the half. The Sooners lead at halftime, 48-30 with Hield scoring 17 points.

Oregon came out aggressively to start the second half, but they were only able to match baskets with Oklahoma and could not significantly narrow the gap. The final score was as close as the Ducks could come.

Though some are starting to make unfair comparisons between Hield and season pros like Kobe Bryant, Hield will have none of it.

“I’m not Kobe Bryant, they should not compare me,” said Hield. “I just make shots. Me and Kobe (are) in different classes.”

In addition to Hield’s heroics, Jordan Woodard scored 13 points for Oklahoma while Isaiah Cousins added 11 to go along with seven assists. The Sooners shot 47 percent from the field and made 12 of 24 three-point attempts.

Oklahoma Coach Lon Kruger is taking Oklahoma to their fifth Final Four and their first since 2002. It is the second for Kruger, who took the Florida Gators to their first Final Four in 1994. He was enjoying the moment for his Sooner players after the game.

“It’s about seeing the satisfaction on the players’ faces,” said Kruger. “They feel good about this now, but they’ll feel even better about it years from now.”

Elgin Cook led Oregon with 24 points and Chris Boucher added 14. Tyler Dorsey contributed 11.

The high-powered Oregon offense was held to 39 percent shooting, including only four of 21 from three-point range. The Ducks finish the season at 31-7 while Oklahoma improves to 29-7.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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