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Villanova knows Hield will have lots of help

HOUSTON — You may have heard of Oklahoma All-American Buddy Hield, the nation’s No. 2 scorer and arguably its best 3-point shooter who won the Oscar Robertson Award on Friday as college basketball’s player of the year.

But the Sooners would not have gotten to the Final Four and today's national semifinal against Villanova without four other players on the court at the same time as Hield.

Those are the guys that Villanova coach Jay Wright is particularly concerned about because of how they played in an earlier meeting when Oklahoma crushed his team, 78-55, on Dec. 7 in Hawaii. Point guard Isaiah Cousins led the Sooners with 19 points and forward Ryan Spangler had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“We know how good (Hield) is, but we also know how good all the other guys are because they hurt us in that game,” Wright said. “Cousins was incredible. (Jordan) Woodard, (Khadeem) Lattin played well, as did Spangler. I think our guys have a different perspective on this Oklahoma team than maybe the national fan base that watched Buddy put up big numbers.”

Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger, who is the only college coach in history to lead five different programs to an NCAA Tournament victory, knows it can be a delicate balancing act with a star of Hield’s magnitude. But the attitude of his senior from the Bahamas makes it easy on him.

“It’s remarkable how he handles” attention, Kruger said. “He passes, deflects praise to his teammates. He’s always talking about team. He always includes teammates, always talking about Isaiah, about Jordan, about Ryan, about the other seniors.”

Kruger mentioned last week’s NCAA West Regional semifinal against Texas A&M. Hield, who averages four 3-point baskets per game, was held to two 3s and 17 points against an Aggies defense that was geared to stop him, but still impacted a 77-63 victory.

“I thought it showed as much security out of a big-time scorer as I’ve ever seen,” Kruger said. “A&M face-guarded him, got up into him. Because of that, Buddy was able to keep his defensive guy out of the rotation defensively, got some lobs to the bucket, set some screens, got 10 rebounds. He was the happiest guy in the arena.

“Buddy knows, and the team knows, they need each other, they really do. It’s not a case of Buddy being able to do it without the others or the others being able to do it without Buddy. I think their experience, their maturity, being an older group has allowed them to handle that pretty well.”

Oklahoma’s starting lineup has stayed intact for all 36 games this season. But its three seniors — Hield, Cousins and Spangler — and Woodard, a junior, have accounted for 104 consecutive starts together.

“We don’t even have to say anything on the court now,” Woodard said. “Buddy and Isaiah, they’re close. They already know if I missed them on a pass, I just give them a head nod like, ‘I got you next time’ without saying anything. Sometimes I take it for granted because it comes so naturally.”

If there’s one other thing the players aren’t taking for granted, it’s Villanova, despite what happened last December in Hawaii.

“We shouldn’t because they’re a great team,” Hield said. “They’ve gotten a lot better as the season progressed. We’ve gotten a lot better, too. I feel like we are playing the way we need to play, sharing the ball, being aggressive on defense, and rebounding. We’ve just got to go out there and execute and have fun doing it.”