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University Of Oklahoma Headed Back To Final Four, Rematch With Villanova Saturday

Senior guard Buddy Hield puts the ball in for two during the game against Oregon March 26.
Astrud Reed
The Oklahoma Daily
Senior guard Buddy Hield puts the ball in for two during Saturday's game against Oregon.

The University of Oklahoma was the first team to punch its ticket to the Final Four of the NCAA men’s tournament over the weekend. The Sooners defeated the University of Oregon 80-68 behind another strong performance by Buddy Hield, who finished with 37 points and made eight three-pointers.

The native of the Bahamas was part of head coach Lon Kruger's initial recruiting class in 2012, and took the Sooners from their initial struggles to college basketball's biggest stage in just four years.

"We know it was a work in progress but hats off to Coach,” Hield said after the game. “He did a good job of keeping us sound. And he got us prepared each year. And every year was a different goal. And this year was a Final Four year.”    

It's also the first time Kruger has been to college basketball's biggest stage since he led the University of Florida’s program in 1994.

"I made a comment to Joe Castiglione, our [athletic director], about these guys have no idea what lies ahead,” Kruger told reporters. “And I said I probably don't either, because things have changed so much from the standpoint of how grand it is."

The Sooners came close in 2009, losing in the Regional Final to the University of North Carolina, who ended up winning the national championship.

This will be OU's fifth trip to the Final Four, their first coming in the NCAA's inaugural championship tournament in 1939. Granted, a Final Four appearance wasn't terribly difficult, since the original field only included eight teams. OU defeated Utah State 50-39 in the first round before losing to Oregon 37-55. The Ducks would go on to win the national championship.

In 1947, the Sooners defeated annual rival Texas to advance to the national championship game against Holy Cross. OU lost 47-58 to the small, private Catholic college in Massachussetts.

41 years later, the Sooners would come up just short again in the national championship game during the tremendously successful stretch of basketball during the late 1980s, led by hardwood pickpocket Mookie Blaylock (he averaged nearly four steals per game during his career in Norman) and Stacey King. After defeating the University of Kansas twice that season, top-seeded OU lost in the finals to the sixth-seeded Jayhawks in what's still considered a major upset.

The Sooners returned to the Final Four in 2002 under head coach Kelvin Sampson, led by junior point guard Hollis Price. The second-seeded Sooners lost 64-73 to fifth-seeded Indiana University, who went on to lose to the Univeristy of Maryland in the championship.

This year, OU became the first school to ever put a team in both basketball's Final Four and the College Football Playoff in the same season. The distinction has precedence - OU played for both the 1988 basketball and football national championships - albeit in different academic calendar years.

Saturday night the Sooners will take on Villanova in Houston. OU beat the Wildcats 78-55 back in December during the Pearl Harbor Invitational in Hawaii.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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