With a front court rotation that consists largely of senior Ryan Spangler and sophomore Khadeem Lattin, No. 1 Oklahoma doesn’t have the elite post players that many recent national champions have called upon. However they’ve got the nation’s best player in Buddy Hield leading a deep perimeter rotation, and that’s what makes Lon Kruger’s team a serious threat to not only reach the Final Four but win two more games once there.
Saturday evening the Sooners shook off some cold (by their standards) shooting to beat LSU 77-75 in Baton Rouge. Not only did the Tigers enter the game with freshman phenom Ben Simmons and some other talents capable of hurting the opposition, but they were in a position where this was a critical game for their NCAA tournament hopes. LSU didn’t accomplish a whole lot in non-conference play, and Saturday represented the opportunity that could have made up for all of that.
Instead, it was Isaiah Cousins who took advantage, as his shot with 3.8 seconds remaining gave Oklahoma the victory.
Hield, who scored 32 points and grabbed seven rebounds in another outstanding performance, has received most of the attention when it comes to Oklahoma and rightfully so. He’s put in the work throughout his career in Norman, and shooting better than 50 percent both from the field and from three the senior from the Bahamas has turned into a player who’s damn near impossible to limit for a full 40 minutes.
But he doesn’t lack for help offensively either. Cousins added 18 points, shooting 8-for-12 from the field, and Spangler held his own in the post to the tune of 16 points and ten rebounds. The Sooners can attack teams from multiple areas, and in the game’s decisive sequence it was Cousins who was entrusted with making a play. And at different points this season if it wasn’t Cousins or Hield, Jordan Woodard proved himself capable of stepping forward as well.
Oklahoma’s ability to take advantage of LSU mistakes, be it turnovers or second-chance scoring opportunities, helped the visitors get back into the game in the second half. Oklahoma scored 18 of its 41 second-half points off of LSU turnovers or offensive rebounds, and that combined with Hield getting hot set the stage for the climactic finish.
The Tigers have some positives to take from this game, most notably the play of Tim Quarterman as he led four player in double figures with 18 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists (two of which were on key Antonio Blakeney three-pointers). But ultimately this game will be about missed opportunities, be it their inability to get a stop down the stretch or the many questions as to why Ben Simmons (14 points, nine rebounds, five assists and five turnovers) didn’t have the ball in his hands more down the stretch.
LSU has the potential to be a dangerous team should they get into the NCAA tournament. But “potential” isn’t about a finished product. Oklahoma’s farther along in that regard, which enabled them to make the plays that needed to be made regardless of who had the ball in his hands.