Oklahoma and Villanova face the shooting woes of NRG Stadium
HOUSTON >> Oklahoma is one of the nation's best 3-point shooting teams. Villanova is no slouch, either.
Their numbers don't lie but neither do NRG Stadium's. That's where the Sooners and Wildcats will play their national semifinal game on Saturday and also where a lot of 3-point shots have just not gone in the basket.
There have been six NCAA Tournament games played in the home of the NFL's Houston Texans, but sizable crowds of 70,000-plus have seen misses at unusual rates for big-time college basketball.
In the six games — the 2011 Final Four and the 2015 South Regional — the 12 teams combined to shoot 27.6 percent (59 of 214) from 3-point range. Plenty of teams have bad games, but only three teams in all of college hoops shot 27.6 percent or worse on 3s this season: Robert Morris, Grambling State and Prairie View A&M.
Only one team playing at NRG — Duke last year — shot better than 33 percent, and that was 42.1 percent (8-19).
Oklahoma (29-7) is coming into the Final Four shooting 42.8 percent on 3s — second in the nation — and Villanova (33-5) hits at a 35.4 percent clip.
Both teams had chances to shoot in the stadium on Thursday and Friday and the ballpark's history didn't seem to bother the Sooners.
"It's just 94 feet with two goals," said Jordan Woodard, who shot 45.9 percent from behind the arc this season. "Coach, he's going to expect us to make shots no matter where we at. We have to make shots in order to win."
Buddy Hield, who has earned a lot of hardware this week as a national player of the year, was fourth in the nation at 46.5 percent.
"We've been making shots all week," he said. "We shouldn't have the effect of shooting in an arena. I know it's big, but we (are) going to light it up tomorrow for sure."
Villanova coach Jay Wright had a team in the 2009 Final Four at Detroit's Ford Field and the Wildcats played in the Carrier Dome every year when the Orange were in the Big East.
"I thought yesterday's practice was really vital," Wright said Friday.
"At the beginning, you could see we were a little off. But by the end of practice, I thought everybody was comfortable," he said. "I really think by tomorrow night, everybody's going to be fine, I really do. Once you get in there for a while, it's going to make you comfortable."
Sooners coach Lon Kruger said things weren't smooth for his team when they started practice.
"We did shoot it well," he said Friday. "The first couple (shots) were pretty bad. I was thinking, 'Don't let this get in their head.' After that, we shot it pretty normally."
These teams met in Hawaii on Dec. 7 and it was all Sooners. Oklahoma won 78-55 and the Sooners broke the 50 percent barrier from 3-point range (14 for 26) while the Wildcats were an abysmal 4 for 32.
"I think we learned a lot from Oklahoma," Wright said. "They were the team we wanted to be. They were connected defensively. They were unselfish offensively. They had intelligent shot selection. It was a great barometer for us all through the season."
Half the starters in this game will be seniors. Oklahoma has Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler while Villanova will have Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu.
"The greatest thing about (our) seniors, is they experienced failure as freshmen, then fought through it to finish the year in the NCAA Tournament, then a lot of success after that," Wright said. "It's really like having coaches on the floor and coaches in the locker room and coaches back in the dorm. It's really valuable."
Kruger last had a team in the Final Four in 1994 with Florida. His 22 years between appearances is second-longest in NCAA history behind DePaul's Ray Meyer who led the Blue Demons to the Final Four in 1943 and again in 1979.
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