Given the offensive weapons at Lon Kruger’s disposal, led by national Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield, West No. 2 Oklahoma’s ability to put the ball in the basket is what’s garnered most of the attention this season. While understandable, people should not overlook the fact that the Sooners are a solid defensive team as well. Thursday night Oklahoma shut down No. 3 Texas A&M, holding the Aggies to 34.4 percent shooting in their 77-63 victory in Anaheim.
As a result Oklahoma will make its first Elite Eight appearance since 2009, playing against either No. 1 Oregon or No. 4 Duke Saturday afternoon.
Texas A&M’s front court tandem of Jalen Jones and Tyler Davis has been a handful for opponents all season long, and with Oklahoma not being the deepest team in the post it appeared as if this was where the Aggies would be able to gain an advantage. However things didn’t work out that way, with Texas A&M not making the effort needed to work the ball inside in the first half and Oklahoma doing a good job of taking away passing lanes into the post.
That’s when the Sooners built their edge, as they led by 19 at the half and managed to hold off an early second half rally by Texas A&M. The Oklahoma approach defensively varied, as they fronted the post at times and in other instances had the guards dig down once the ball got there. And with the Oklahoma guards also shutting down driving lanes from the perimeter, Texas A&M resorted to throwing up perimeter shots far too often.
Offensively the Sooners were far more than just Hield, with Jordan Woodard scoring a game-high 22 points to lead five Oklahoma players in double figures. Hield added 17 points and ten rebounds for his first double-double of the season, but the problem for Texas A&M was the fact that so many other players were able to find looks for Oklahoma. The Sooners hit 11 three-pointers, shot 48.4 percent from the field and assisted on 23 of their 31 made field goals.
With their spacing and ball movement Oklahoma was too much for Texas A&M, despite the efforts of an excellent defender in senior guard Alex Caruso.
Oklahoma has the offense to score with any team in the country, as they’ve shown on many occasions this season. But this group isn’t too bad on the defensive end either, an understated reason why they’re one win away from their first Final Four since 2002.