by RENALDO DORSETT
HOUSTON, Texas – For the past week, Villanova head coach Jay Wright has fielded one question more than any other as the media looks ahead to the Final Four.
“How do you slow down the most explosive player in college basketball?”
Wright addressed the extra attention his staff has given toward the monumental task of slowing down Bahamian sharpshooter Buddy Hield.
“The guys that have gotten the attention like he has are Kris Dunn, Isaiah Whitehead, Ben Bentil. What’s unique about Buddy is I think he moves without the basketball at a speed and with a level of intelligence that no one else that we’ve played against does. I think that’s what’s going to make him a great pro,” Wright said, “A lot of times the great college players have the ball in their hands all the time. He’s so good not just coming off screens without the ball, but he gets himself spaced away from the ball and 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. We tried to have Eric Paschall simulate that when we were back home, then Donte DiVincenzo. Watching it, they do a great job, but it’s just not the same.”
The Sooners (29-7) and Wildcats (33-5) will face off Saturday, April 2 at the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas at 6pm local time. The Wildcats are favoured by two points in the game which will be broadcast live on TBS.
With a shift to an elevated floor in a converted football arena which seats over 60,000, Wright said the team that adjusts first and shoots the ball effectively will have an advantage. Again, he felt Hield already had an advantage in that area.
“First thing, I thought we had an advantage there. I heard Buddy Hield say, I play outside all the time in The Bahamas, so it’s the same for me. I thought, Damn, that was a good answer. He was smart about that,” Wright said, “I thought yesterday’s practice was really vital. At the beginning you could see we were a little off. But by the end of practice, I thought everybody was comfortable. I really think by tomorrow night, everybody’s going to be fine, I really do.
Villanova lost by 23 points to Oklahoma in December, a game where Hield score just 18 points, well below his season average of 25.4.
“You know what, I think we’ve become a team closer to the team that we saw in Hawaii, the Oklahoma team. As soon as that game started, we could see that these guys are dialed in defensively, connected defensively, they share the ball offensively, and they have great shot selection,” he said, “We were not good in any of those four areas at that time. Just had young guys. But we’ve always used that game and the respect for Oklahoma to keep trying to improve. But even as we got better, we would say to ourselves, Okay, this is working here, but they’re still a No. 3, 2 team in the country, and they’re getting better at it, too. We have to continue to get better in those areas. I think we have gotten better. I think this game is going to be about how much better have they gotten, how much better have we gotten, how close are we now.”
The first meeting was also in neutral site at the Pearl Harbour Invitational. The Wildcats shot a paltry 12.5 percent (4-32) from three point range and 31 percent (20-63) from the field.
“In one sense I’d rather not play them because I know how good they are. But in another sense, it’s the perfect either ending for our season or next step because we’re going to see how much we’ve improved,” Wright said, “This was the team that really got us, and we looked up to all year.”