If you’re simply looking at the stat line, it would seem like Tuesday night’s win over No. 5 Kansas was a typical Trae Young game.
The star point guard for No. 12 Oklahoma finished with 26 points, nine assists, four boards, two steals and five turnovers, which is roughly what he has averaged throughout the season. The difference here, however, was that Young, just three days removed from taking 39 shots in a loss at Oklahoma State and less than a week removed from turning the ball over 12 times in a loss at Kansas State, shot the ball just nine times.
He was 7-for-9 from the floor. He was 2-for-3 from three and 10-for-12 from the line. He was more focused on distributing the ball and getting his teammates involved than he has been in any game this season, and the result was a critical, 85-80 win over the Jayhawks.
Oklahoma entered Tuesday night trailing Kansas by two games in the conference along with … well, everyone else: West Virginia, Texas Tech, Kansas State. This was the second loss the Jayhawks have taken in the Big 12 and it means that their lead over the field was cut in half.
Put another way, an outright regular season title is still a possibility for Oklahoma — and everyone else chasing Kansas.
There’s no two ways around it. This was a massive win and an excellent performance from Young.
The question I have is whether or not this version of The Trae Young Show is something that is sustainable for Oklahoma in the long-term.
Because I’m not sure that it is.
The narrative coming out of this game is going to be that Young, having lost a pair of road games in a league where no one wins on the road, came home and beat the conference favorites after Selfish Trae Young morphed into Unselfish Trae Young. And credit where it is due, Young made an active and impressive decision to get everyone else on the roster involved. He played differently, no one is disputing that.
But I’d argue that Lon Kruger’s decision to foul Udoka Azubuike on four possessions in the final four minutes — and Bill Self’s decision to leave Azubuike in the game — is what changed this game. Azubuike is a 41 percent free throw shooter that missed six straight free throws, two of which were front-ends, after a Malik Newman layup gave Kansas a 78-74 lead with 4:02 left. The Jayhawks would score just a single basket the rest of the game, one of only three possessions they had in those four minutes when the game wasn’t in doubt and Azubuike wasn’t on the free throw line.
That had as much to do with Oklahoma’s game-ending 11-2 run as anything else.
I also think it’s important to note that, on Saturday, Oklahoma’s supporting cast shot 14-for-43 from the floor and 2-for-15 from three. On Tuesday night, they were 21-for-48 (43.8%) from the field and 7-for-20 (35%) from three. That’s an improvement, there is no question about that, but it’s not a better or more efficient offensive option than asking Young to be aggressive is. Put another way, it’s not selfish to shoot a lot if your shots are the best way for your team to score.
Kruger needed to reel Young in a little bit after last week.
No one is going to argue that.
As I wrote here, Young needs to trust his teammates more and his teammates need to give him more reason to trust them. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, on Oklahoma’s final two possessions, Young found Christian James and then Brady Manek for the go-ahead and game-sealing threes. Compare that to the Oklahoma State, when Young forced deep threes over multiple defenders at the end of regulation and overtime, possessions where the Sooners could have won the game at the buzzer.
But I also think we can all agree that for Oklahoma to reach their ceiling, they cant make a habit out of James, Manek and Kameron McGusty taking 29 shots and Young getting just nine.
Because this win, as important as it was, was not Oklahoma’s ceiling, not unless you think a home win aided by intentional fouls against a good-but-far-from-great Kansas team that saw their best player shoot 4-for-19 from the floor is super-impressive.