HOUSTON (AP) — When the Final Four semifinals were over it was easy to look at the left side of the scores and be impressed.
Both winning coaches were much happier with the score on the right — that of their opponents.
Villanova’s 95 points were certainly impressive, but how about the 51 points they allowed Oklahoma to score? That was 29.5 points below the Sooners’ average.
North Carolina scored 83 points against Syracuse but it was the 28 points the Tar Heels allowed in the first half that set the tone for their path to Monday night’s championship game.
As long as they keep playing basketball, it will always be defense that wins games, especially the big ones.
Villanova and North Carolina had different problems facing them when the night started.
The Wildcats had to contain All-American Buddy Hield while not allowing the other Sooners to start scoring in his stead. They did that by having everybody on the roster take a run at covering him.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had more people ask me or send me more suggestions on how to stop Buddy Hield,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “They either asked me what are you going to do, or said this is what you should do.”
Wright had it figured out.
“One of the things we tried to do was switch onto him not specifically for switching, but to get different people playing him because he wears you out,” he said. “We had everybody from Daniel Ochefu, our 5 man, guarding him, Darryl Reynolds guarded him. We did it so different guys were chasing him, moving off the ball, we were giving him different looks.
“He’s so smart, he can tell who’s covering him, how you’re guarding him, what you can do to that guy. We were able to stay fresh.
“I think at some point in the second half, as a matter of fact, like eight minutes, he came out of the game. I thought, ‘He’s got to be tired. We must be getting to him now.’”
Hield, who came into the game shooting 46.5 percent from 3-point range, finished 1 for 8 from behind the arc and had nine points, 16 below his average and just the second time this season he was held below 10. He scored 37 against Oregon in the regional final to get to the Final Four.
“Just credit them (for) what they were doing,” Hield said. “Made it tough on me throwing multiple bodies at me. … They just played terrific tonight. “
North Carolina has another game to play because they made it tough on Syracuse’s perimeter players to even get a good look. Except for Trevor Cooney hitting some 3s when the Tar Heels held a double-digit lead, the Orange couldn’t get going from behind the arc.
The Orange finished 8 for 25 from 3 with Cooney going 4 for 8 and with North Carolina’s 43-31 rebound advantage there were only four fast break points.
“Just turned up the defensive intensity. That’s all it was,” Tar Heels All-American Brice Johnson said. “We decided to lock down on defense. We did a lot better and got a lot of stops.
“We’re still doing the same scoring that we’ve been doing it’s just we’ve been getting a lot of stops with it.”
Tar Heels coach Roy Williams almost gave his team a great grade.
“The last four weeks we’ve been much, much better defensively,” he said. “We had a brain lapse there for about three minutes in the second half, but other than that I thought we were really good defensively against a team that’s hard to guard.”
Now Villanova has to find a way to stop the balanced scoring and inside power of North Carolina.
And North Carolina has to keep up its perimeter defense against the 3-point shooting of Villanova.
It’s a good bet the team that cuts down the nets will be the one that executes its defensive game plan.