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April 02, 2016

Villanova takes team approach to slowing down superstar Buddy Hield

HOUSTON – Everyone who encounters Jay Wright wants to talk hoops with him, which makes the following observation from Villanova's coach fairly noteworthy: In his 21 years coaching at both Hofstra and ‘Nova, Wright couldn’t recall ever hearing more about one opposing player leading up to a game than Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield.

“They either ask me, ‘What are you going to do?’” Wright said. “Or they said, ‘This is what you should do.’”

As it turned out, Wright and his players had things covered. Matched up with the Wooden Award frontrunner, ‘Nova had all the answers. Besides a six-point effort against West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament, Hield’s nine points on 4-12 shooting in the national semifinal was the lowest offensive output of his magical senior season.

The Wildcats smothered Buddy.

Hield went 1-8 from three-point range. He missed a couple of open shots that normally drop, but especially in one-on-one situations, ‘Nova successfully forced Hield put the ball on the floor and make plays (which is easier said than done).

He couldn’t do it. In the first four rounds of the tournament, Hield consistently created his shot; against ‘Nova, it was tough sledding in that regard.

“They were up into him. they were very aggressive,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “They had good help when Buddy did drive it. I thought their alertness, their awareness was just very, very good. They were quick to recover.”

In the first four rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Hield averaged an absurd 29.3 points on 57 percent shooting from the field and 47 percent shooting from three-point range. So, how did ‘Nova shut him down? As senior Daniel Ochefu said after the game, simply by “doing what we do better.” Here are Hield's tourney stats:

 27 8-143-6
 VCU 36 11-206-14
 Texas A&M
 17 6-132-7
 9 4-121-8

Wright didn’t change the game plan, which explains why ‘Nova can dictate five straight games against high-level competition. If the Wildcats are going down, it will be on their terms.

This was the same ol' ‘Nova defensive strategy that we are accustomed to, 1-2-2 pressure that falls back into a halfcourt man-to-man defense with liberal switching. Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges were Hield’s primary defenders, but everybody on the floor got a crack at him.

According to Wright, there were a couple benefits to going about it this way.

“One of the things we tried to do was switch onto him not specifically for switching, but get different people playing him because he wears you out,” Wright said.

“We had everybody from Daniel Ochefu, our five 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.”

Indeed, the big men did get a chance on Hield and they followed the same script as the guards: Get up on Buddy and take away his airspace.

“That was something we worked on in our scouting report and something myself and Darryl take a lot of pride in, to guard on the perimeter,” Ochefu said. “To do that against one of the best guards in the country is definitely big.”

The extra bodies helped Hart, the best player on the floor on Saturday night, take over on the offensive end. Not burdened with chasing Hield around on every possession, Hart poured in 23 points on 10-12 shooting.

“It wasn't just one guy that was on him,” Hart said. “We threw a lot of guys at him. Ryan was on him, Mikal was on him, [Phil] Booth was on him. We were so dialed into not letting him get threes off.”

"Just credit them, what they was doing," Hield said. "Made it tough on me, throwing a bunch of bodies at me. Just couldn't get it going."

‘Nova is onto the national championship, and now Wright has the added benefit of not having to constantly hear about Buddy Hield anymore.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann