Daniels, debutant Whitmore lead Villanova past Oklahoma

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Caleb Daniels scored 22 points and top freshman Cam Whitmore brought instant energy in his debut following a thumb injury to lead Villanova to a 70-66 win over Oklahoma on Saturday in the first game with former Wildcats coach Jay Wright in the broadcast booth.

Wright wore a headset on the CBS broadcast for both his broadcast debut and the first collegiate game for Whitmore, arguably his most prized recruit over his Hall of Fame coaching career. Wright never coached Whitmore following his stunning resignation in April after he won two national championships and took the Wildcats to the Final Four last season.

Wright yielded the program to long-time assistant Kyle Neptune -- who returned to succeed Wright after one year as head coach at Fordham -- and the Wildcats stumbled early.

They lost four straight and had their worst seven-game start since 1991.

Villanova could have used Whitmore. He was a 2022 McDonald’s All-American and the Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year and could become the program’s first one-and-done player since Tim Thomas in 1997. Wright built a national power in the Philadelphia suburbs without a single player ever bolting for the NBA after one season. Most stayed for three or four, and Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are among the scores of players who reaped the benefits of collegiate success and NBA riches. Both players also graduated.

Whitmore needed surgery on a broken right thumb suffered in an early October practice.

Yes, he missed games. But as for his status as a can’t-miss prospect? Well, that hasn’t changed at all -- ESPN had him listed as the sixth-best available draft prospect and various draft boards still projected him as an easy top-10 pick.

The 6-foot-7, 232-pound forward had the crowd stirring from the moment he sat at the scorers table to check in early in the first half.

His thumb taped, Whitmore received a rousing ovation when he checked in at 14:18 and a step-back 3 for his first career bucket had the crowd of 17,079 going wild. Whitmore flashed his power and speed late in the half. He dribbled beyond the arc, skipped past two defenders, and bump-and-blew past Jacob Groves for a twisting left-handed layup.

Whitmore at one point burst through Oklahoma’s routine dribble-handoff and the ball got knocked out of bounds.

Whitmore did it all at the home of the Philadelphia 76ers.

He played like someone who could get used to NBA arenas in a hurry. Whitmore scored seven points and had three rebounds in 20 minutes.

Grant Sherfield led the Sooners (6-2) with 21 points, and Jacob Groves and Tanner Groves each had 14.

Wright was back to his GQ Jay style in a suit after he shifted to casual wear because of the pandemic. The 60-year-old Wright made a cameo appearance on the broadcast and flawlessly called the Wildcats “they” or “them.” Wright makes his debut as a game analyst Wednesday for the Penn-Villanova game on the CBS Sports Network.

Wright astutely noted after he was introduced at halftime Saturday, “Nova’s got two freshmen out there to start the half which is rare for them.”

Indeed, it was. He should know.

The Sooners, who saw their six-game winning streak end, built an early 11-point lead and were a handful all game until the Wildcats got hot down the stretch. Brandon Slater drove the paint for a bucket and a 62-61 Villanova lead and Daniels went inside for a tough basket for a three-point lead.

Oklahoma’s Jalen Hill missed 1 of 2 free throws with 1:18 left and Daniels made the Sooners pay with a 3 that sealed the win.

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More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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Daniels, debutant Whitmore lead Villanova past Oklahoma
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