In 1994, Lon Kruger led Florida to the Final Four. Twenty-two years later, he’s done it again, this time with Oklahoma.
The Sooners knocked off No. 1 Oregon, 80-68, on Saturday to reach its first Final Four since 2002.
“(It’s) very special,” Kruger said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “It’s tough to win tournament games, let alone get to the Final Four. That’s my message to the players all the time. Don’t take any of this for granted, appreciate what you’re doing (and) enjoy the week but focus on the next opponent.”
After surviving VCU, 85-81, in the Round of 32, Oklahoma left little doubt in Sweet 16 and Elite 8 match-ups with Texas A&M and Oregon, winning by a combined 26 points. Buddy Hield stole the show against the Ducks, hitting eight threes and going off for 37 points, while Jordan Woodard scored a game-high 22 points against the Aggies.
“This group all year has done a good job of focusing on the moment,” Kruger said. “When the stage has been big, they’ve done a pretty good job playing within themselves, letting the game come to them and I thought defensively – both against A&M and Oregon – really set the tone in the first half especially.”
Oklahoma led A&M and Oregon by 19 and 18 points, respectively, at halftime.
“We had a couple of really good stretches in both ball games where we were able to create a bit of a margin, most obviously because we made shots,” Kruger said. “But that margin doesn’t happen if you don’t get stops on the other end.”
Oklahoma (29-7) will face Villanova (33-5) in the Final Four this Saturday at 6:09 p.m. ET. The Sooners beat the Wildcats, 78-55, in the Pearl Harbor Invitational in Honolulu on Dec. 7. Oklahoma made 14 three-pointers in that game – including four apiece by Hield and Isaiah Cousins – but Kruger isn’t putting much stock in that 23-point decision.
“I think that game really won’t relate to this game,” he said. “It’s almost like we played them last season. Villanova is obviously playing great, and our guys know that. It’s not like Villanova has flown under the radar. They’ve been the No. 1 ranked team for much of the last six weeks, so our guys respect them. We know their personnel. But as far as what went on in that game, (it will have) very little relationship to this one on Saturday. I guess that’s the value of having an older squad in our case. The seniors understand that.”
Oklahoma is seeking its first national-title berth since 1988.