Whitmore sparks Villanova past Oklahoma in fantastic debut

Dec 2, 2022, 10:01 PM | Updated: Dec 3, 2022, 1:07 pm
Oklahoma's Jacob Groves (34) goes up for a shot between Villanova's Chris Arcidiacono (4) and Mark ...

Oklahoma's Jacob Groves (34) goes up for a shot between Villanova's Chris Arcidiacono (4) and Mark Armstrong (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

              Oklahoma's Jacob Groves (34) goes up for a shot between Villanova's Chris Arcidiacono (4) and Mark Armstrong (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
            
              Oklahoma's Tanner Groves (35) leaps for a rebound against Villanova's Brandon Slater (34) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
            
              Villanova head coach Kyle Neptune reacts during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
            
              Oklahoma head coach Porter Moser reacts to a call during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Villanova, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
            
              Former Villanova head coach Jay Wright smiles before an NCAA college basketball game between Villanova and Oklahoma, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
            
              Former Villanova head coach Jay Wright watches warmups before an NCAA college basketball game between Villanova and Oklahoma, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
            
              Oklahoma's Grant Sherfield (25) goes up for a shot against Villanova's Cam Whitmore (22) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
            
              Villanova's Cam Whitmore, right, goes up for a shot against Oklahoma's Jacob Groves during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
            
              Villanova's Cam Whitmore (22) reacts after an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
            
              Villanova's bench celebrates after Jordan Longino hit a 3-pointer to pull Villanova within one late in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan State, Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State won 73-71. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
            
              Oklahoma's Jacob Groves reacts after a basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Villanova, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
            
              Villanova's Cam Whitmore, left, goes up for a shot against Oklahoma's Tanner Groves during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
            
              Villanova's Caleb Daniels, center, goes up for a shot as Oklahoma's Sam Godwin, left, and Bijan Cortes look on during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
            
              Oklahoma's Grant Sherfield, tries to pass against Villanova's Brandon Slater, left, and Chris Arcidiacono during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
            
              Villanova's Cam Whitmore, right, goes up for a shot against Oklahoma's Jacob Groves during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Cam Whitmore only touched a basketball a few times over seven weeks because of a broken thumb that delayed the start of his career that already seemed set as a brief one at Villanova.

Once he got his shot, Whitmore used his size, athleticism and skill that made him one of the top recruits out of high school to spark a Wildcats team in sore need of his intangibles.

“Honestly, I’m shocked,” coach Kyle Neptune said. “Normal human beings, they would have been just completely discombobulated.”

Whitmore had seven points, three rebounds and three steals over 20 minutes in his debut and Caleb Daniels scored 22 points 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.

The intriguing cocktail of Whitmore’s debut combined with Villanova’s slow start and with Wright on hand as a broadcaster and the streaking Sooners in town easily made this college basketball’s biggest attraction of the day.

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

The Wildcats (3-5) 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.

“I’ve been itching (to go) since the day I got hurt,” Whitmore said.

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, then bumped-and-blew past Jacob Groves for a twisting left-handed layup.

“That was love from Nova Nation,” Whitmore said of the ovation. “Since the beginning, they’ve been building me up.”

Oh, they’re not the only ones.

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

Whitmore shook off mild pain in the thumb and played like a future star at the home of the Philadelphia 76ers.

He played like someone who could get used to NBA arenas in a hurry.

“I’m in college now, so I’m worried about college now,” he said. “Try to win a championship.”

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.

“Daniels just makes you pay. I thought Daniels just made some veteran plays,” OU coach Porter Moser said.

The Wildcats can only hope the first win with Whitmore gets them back on the path toward March success.

___

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

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Blaney (12) spins out and is hit by Daniel Suarez (99) during the Bus...
Associated Press

Column: Sloppy race clouds NASCAR’s return to LA Coliseum

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Bubba Wallace said his back and neck hurt following the bumping and banging of NASCAR’s first event of the new year, an exhibition that Kyle Larson called “very violent for the majority of the race.” Austin Dillon was shocked at the aggressiveness shown Sunday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, […]
1 day ago
Boston Bruins newly hired head coach Jim Montgomery, center, displays a Bruins jersey while standin...
Associated Press

Coaching carousel spins perfectly for Bruins, Stars, Knights

Getting fired by the Boston Bruins didn’t stop former coach Bruce Cassidy from picking up the phone and giving some advice when replacement Jim Montgomery called to ask. Getting fired by the Vegas Golden Knights also didn’t stop Peter DeBoer from answering a call from Cassidy, who replaced him in his old job. DeBoer was […]
1 day ago
South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley reacts in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game ...
Associated Press

Indiana reaches No. 2 in women’s AP Top 25; SC still No. 1

South Carolina beat a top opponent to remain No. 1 in The Associated Press women’s college basketball poll released Monday and now has a showdown with another one looming this weekend. The Gamecocks (23-0) topped then- No. 5 UConn 81-77 on Sunday to remain unbeaten and stay the unanimous choice atop the poll from the […]
1 day ago
Manchester City's head coach Pep Guardiola sits on the bench before the English FA Cup 4th round so...
Associated Press

How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges

GENEVA (AP) — The English Premier League vs. Manchester City: a legal fixture for the ages. Soccer’s richest and most watched league challenged its defending champion on Monday with more than 100 charges of alleged financial wrongdoing and failures to cooperate with an investigation that took more than four years. Dozens of charges allege breaches […]
1 day ago
Purdue head coach Matt Painter argues a call during the second of an NCAA college basketball game a...
Associated Press

Purdue stays No. 1 in AP Top 25; NC State in at No. 22

Purdue’s unquestioned grip on No. 1 in The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll is gone after a weekend loss. That didn’t stop the Boilermakers from remaining at the top anyway. The Boilermakers earned 38 of 62 first-place votes in the poll released Monday to remain at No. 1 for a third straight week and […]
1 day ago
FILE - Coach Eteri Tutberidze, left, talks to Kamila Valieva, center, of the Russian Olympic Commit...
Associated Press

Putin honors skating coach in Valieva Olympic case

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded figure skating coach Eteri Tutberidze one of the country’s highest honors Monday, nearly a year after a doping case involving one of her skaters overshadowed the Winter Olympics. A presidential decree dated Jan. 26 but published on Monday listed Tutberidze among three people awarded the Order of […]
1 day ago
Whitmore sparks Villanova past Oklahoma in fantastic debut