The Latest: Syracuse’s Gbinije tries to cut Carolina’s lead

HOUSTON (AP) — The Latest on the Final Four with Villanova and Oklahoma playing in the first semifinal and North Carolina and Syracuse in Game 2. (all times local):

8:37 p.m.

Syracuse’s Michael Gbinijie made a nice play, scoring on a short floater while being fouled.

He made the free throw after a timeout, trying to cut more into North Carolina’s 33-27 lead with just over 2 minutes until halftime.


8:30 p.m.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim just called a timeout, doing what he can to stop North Carolina’s momentum.

The Tar Heels have gone ahead 27-18 with a 9-0 run, the last bucket a jumper by Marcus Paige for his first points of the game.

There are less than 6 minutes left in the first half.


8:28 p.m.

North Carolina has some experience against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone.

The Tar Heels are shooting 41 percent (9 of 22) in the national semifinal game, the same percentage of Syracuse’s first four NCAA Tournament opponents.


8:22 p.m.

North Carolina is starting to make a few shots, hitting its last three.

Syracuse is still struggling from the field, making only 2 of its last 12 after starting 5 for 8. But the Orange trail only 20-18 at the under 8 minutes media timeout.


8:15 p.m.

Syracuse and North Carolina have both hit a quick lull after trading baskets back and forth at the start of their Final Four game.

Still, they’re keeping things close Saturday night in their semifinal.

Neither team has scored in the last 2 1/2 minutes and are a combined 0 for their last 8.

North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks leads all players with 6 points.


7:58 p.m.

North Carolina and Syracuse have tipped in the second game of the Final Four.

The winner will take on Villanova for the NCAA Tournament title on Monday night.

The Tar Heels and Orange are the last teams left in March Madness from a dominant ACC, which easily performed the best of any conference in the tournament.

North Carolina has beaten Syracuse twice this season.


7:15 p.m.

Villanova is going to the national championship game for the third time in school history and first time since winning it all in 1985. It will be the second time the Wildcats have played the final in Houston. The first was in 1971 when they lost to UCLA in the Astrodome next door to NRG Stadium.

The Wildcats tore up Oklahoma 95-51, the largest margin of victory in a national semifinal game in NCAA Tournament history.

The previous mark had been 34 points, with Magic Johnson and Michigan State beating Pennsylvania 101-67 in 1979, and Cincinnati beating Oregon State 8-46 in 1963.

Villanova will play an ACC team next — North Carolina or Syracuse.

Villanova is 11-4 all-time against North Carolina, bu coach Jay Wright is 0-3. Their last meeting was in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, a 78-71 UNCA win.

Against Syracuse, a former Big East rival, the Wildcats trail that series 38-34. But Wright is 12-9 against the Orange.


7:05 p.m.

Oklahoma’s Khadeem Lattin, from Houston, was playing in honor of his grandmother, who died earlier this week. Like the rest of the Sooners, his game was a disappointment.

The sophomore has fouled out with two points.

Lattin is also the grandson of Dave Lattin, who played on the Texas Western team that was the first to win the NCAA Tournament with five black players starting.


6:58 p.m.

No worries, Villanova fans. Daniel Ochefu is back in the game after going off a little gimpy.

It’s garbage time at NRG Stadium now. The Sooners have gotten the deficit below 30 but the last seven minutes are just playing out the string.

Don’t tell that to Villanova coach Jay Wright, who has still been coaching his guys hard. No celebrations yet for the Wildcats.

Sooners star Buddy Hield has nine points, 20 less than he was averaging coming into the game, and is 1-for-8 from 3.


6:52 p.m.

It is all Villanova. The Wildcats are up 31 with eight minutes left in the second half, using a 15-0 run to pretty much their first spot in the national title game since the miracle 1985 team beat Georgetown.

One bit of nervous news for ‘Nova. Center Daniel Ochefu came off the floor gimpy and has not returned. The senior was limited by a sprained ankle during the Big East Tournament last month.


6:40 p.m.


Villanova is starting to pull away and the Wildcats did it with a beautiful long pass on an inbounds play that Mikal Bridges finished with a dunk while getting fouled.

The Wildcats are up 62-41 with under 11 minutes left and Oklahoma’s basketball Final Four appearance is starting to feel like it’s football one. The Sooners lost to Clemson 37-17 in the College Football Playoff on New Year’s Eve.

Villanova junior guard Josh Hart has 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting. His career high is 27 points, and only once in his career has the All-Big East guard made 11 field goals in a game. He had 27 points against Akron earlier this season, and twice has 25 points.


6:35 p.m.

The hustle and effort has been there for Oklahoma, but it’s just not turning into points. The Sooners are 5-for-20 from the floor this half, 1-for-10 from 3. Eleven offensive rebounds have given them plenty of chances, including some good open looks.

Meanwhile, on the defensive end, Villanova is still executing superbly. The Wildcats are 6-for-8 and lead 56-41 with 11:55 left in the second half.


6:23 p.m.

Oklahoma started the second half pounding the offensive glass. The Sooners missed six shots on one possession as they crashed the glass but could not capitalize.

That hustle was rewarded eventually when Jordan Woodard converted what amounted to a four-point play, hitting two free throws and following his miss of a third with a putback to cut the lead to 46-37. Villanova coach Jay Wright called a timeout to talk about boxing out, most likely.

Woodard’s points were his first of the game.


6:13 p.m.

Second half is ready to start with Villanova leading by 14.

If it seemed like the first half of Villanova and Oklahoma flew by that’s because the teams combined to shoot two free throws. Oklahoma’s Ryan Spangler missed them both. There were seven total fouls called, only two on Oklahoma.

That makes Villanova’s 42-point half even more impressive.

Ryan Arcidiancono’s 10 points matches what he had in Villanova’s loss to the Sooners four months ago. The Wildcats 18 field goals are only two fewer than they made the whole game the first time.

On the Oklahoma side, Buddy Hield has seven points at the break — half of his first-half total in the first matchup. Hield is 3 for 8 from the field and 1 for 5 from 3.


5:57 p.m.

Villanova is up 42-28 at halftime and it’s Oklahoma’s largest halftime deficit this season.

In their previous largest deficit, the Sooners trailed by nine at the break against Texas on Feb. 8, but came back to win that game 63-60. When these two teams played back in December in Hawaii, Oklahoma led Villanova 32-26 at the break.

Buddy Hield has seven points for the Sooners and went a span of 15:07 without scoring.

Josh Hart has 15 points for the Wildcats on 7-of-8 shooting. Ryan Arcidiacono has 10 points and has made all four of his shots, including two 3s. The Wildcats shots 67 percent (18 for 27) in the first half and scored 15 points off nine Oklahoma turnovers.

The Sooners D has been provided little resistance to the Wildcats, who are getting in the paint with relative ease. They have scored 22 points in the paint.


5:44 p.m.

Where’s Buddy? Villanova has raced out to 37-21 lead on Oklahoma with 3:51 left in the first half at the Final Four and Sooners star Buddy Hield has been very quiet.

He made a 3 for the first basket of the game and followed up soon after with another two. Since then he has gone more than 12 minutes without scoring. Hield was averaging 29 per game in the tournament and scored 37 in the Elite Eight against Oregon.


5:40 p.m.

This game is certainly already different from the Dec. 7 matchup between Oklahoma and Villanova that the Sooners won by 23 points.

Villanova is on a 12-0 run. The Wildcats’ defense has sparked their offense throughout the tournament and that’s been the case in the first half against Oklahoma.

Villanova has forced seven turnovers and leads 28-17 with 6:57 left.

5:30 p.m.

For the first time in three years coach John Calipari is at the Final Four as a spectator, and he still has a pretty good seat.

While not on the bench, the Kentucky coach was in the first row of spectator seats near midcourt. His seats were only a few feet behind the media, including TV and radio crews, courtside.

Kentucky won its NCAA Tournament opener against Stony Brook before losing to Indiana in the second round.

Calipari and the Wildcats played in the Final Four in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015. They won the national title in 2012, were runner-ups in 2014.


5:27 p.m.

Take that to the bank. Isaiah Cousins banked a 3-pointer for Oklahoma’s third 3-pointer of the game less than 7 minutes in. The Sooners are 3-of-5 on 3-pointers, and Villanova is 2-for-4 from long range.

No shooting woes early in this game. Villanova is 8-of-13 overall and Oklahoma is 7-of-13, neither seemingly having a problem shooting in the cavernous football stadium.

It was Villanova 19-17 at the second TV timeout.

5:18 p.m.

Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger didn’t stay on that stool very long.

Kruger was initially sitting on the short stool on the edge of the raised court, before getting up for what he considered a questionable foul call. He’s been standing since. Villanova coach Jay Wright, meanwhile, doesn’t even have a stool on the floor with him.

At the first TV timeout, Villanova was up 10-9.

5:11 p.m.

The Final Four started with Buddy Hield hitting a 3-pointer, his 20th of the tournament. Moments later Hield scored again to give Oklahoma a 7-6 lead.


5:07 p.m.

Blowing the whistles and calling the fouls for the first game — the officials — are referee Mark Whitehead, along with Tom Eades and Tony Padilla. The standby official is Brian Dorsey.


5: 02 p.m.

Star sightings: Vice president Joe Biden, who received a mixed reaction from the fans when he appeared on the video screen above the court. Former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen, who also played for the Houston Rockets, is here. Also, President George Bush.


4:56 p.m.

Oklahoma star Buddy Hield made at least six consecutive 3-pointers during warmups.

For all the talk about the difficulty of shooting in the big stadium, the big-scoring Oklahoma guard certainly looks comfortable in pregame.


4:48 p.m.

The starting lineups for the first national semifinal game:

Villanova: Junior forward Kris Jenkins, senior forward Daniel Ochefu, freshman guard Jalen Brunson, junior guard Josh Hart, senior guard Ryan Arcidiancono

Oklahoma: Senior forward Ryan Spangler, sophomore forward Khadeem Lattin, junior guard Jordan Woodard, senior guard Isaiah Cousins, senior guard Buddy Hield. It is the 105th straight game that Spangler, Woodard, Cousins and Hield have started together.


Buddy Ball vs. Philly Ball and a matchup of Hall of Fame coaches.

The Final Four tips off Saturday night at NRG Stadium in Houston with Oklahoma facing Villanova, a couple of sharp-shooting No. 2 seeds. The Sooners are led by Buddy Hield, who is averaging 29 points per game in the NCAA Tournament while showing off almost unlimited range. The Wildcats from Philadelphia, led by Ryan Arcidiacono, are hitting 46 percent of their 3s so far in the tournament.

The Sooners are making their fifth Final Four appearance and Villanova is making its sixth.

In Game 2, top-seed North Carolina with coach Roy Williams faces Jim Boeheim and 10th-seeded Syracuse. Williams and Boeheim have combined for 125 NCAA Tournament wins, including some Boeheim wins vacated by the NCAA.

The Orange is the fourth double-digit seed to reach the Final Four, but none have made it to the title game.

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