Buddy Hield

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Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine tweets support for Buddy Hield

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To say that things didn’t go as planned for No. 2 Oklahoma on Saturday would be a major understatement. The Sooners couldn’t get much going offensively and they had an even tougher time defensively as they lost 95-51 to No. 2 Villanova. Of course with social media being what it is today this opened the door for the “crying Jordan” memes, one of which being the head being attached to the body of dancing Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Buddy Hield, who’s won multiple national Player of the Year awards over the last few days, scored just nine points and shot 1-for-8 from three against a Villanova defense geared towards slowing him down. A bad night in the most important game of the season can led to some ignoring the overall body of work, but Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine was quick to remind people of what Hield’s managed to do this season.

Valentine’s been right there with Hield when it comes to the national Player of the Year awards, and with good reason. They’ve been the two best players in college basketball this season, and an off night for either doesn’t change that.

h/t For The Win

VIDEO: Oklahoma’s Kruger, Hield discuss loss to Villanova

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No. 2 Oklahoma was on the wrong side of history Saturday night, as they lost 95-51 to No. 2 Villanova in what now stands as the biggest blowout in the history of the Final Four. After a solid start to the game nothing seemed to work for the West Region champions, with guard Buddy Hield shooting 1-for-8 from three and the team shooting just over 31 percent from the field.

By comparison Villanova shot 71.4 percent from the field, a number that’s second in Final Four history behind the 78.6 percent the 1985 Villanova team shot in its win over Georgetown. And it should be noted that Jay Wright’s team shot as well as they did with the three-point shot, which wasn’t a part of the college game in 1985.

Both Hield and Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger were highly complimentary of the Wildcats, with Hield stating that he believes Villanova has what it takes to win Monday night.

Buddy Hield leads No. 2 Oklahoma’s demolition of No. 1 Oregon

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With No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 Oklahoma being the top two seeds in the West Region, it was fair to assume that the matchup would be a close one. Lon Kruger’s Sooners, most especially national Player of the Year favorite Buddy Hield, had other ideas however. Hield scored 37 points to lead Oklahoma to their first Final Four appearance since 2002, as they soundly defeated the Ducks by the final score of 80-68.

Hield scored his 37 points on 13-for-20 shooting from the field, making eight of his 13 attempts from beyond the arc. The two-time Big 12 Player of the Year did finish with six turnovers, and if not for those miscues one has to wonder just how many points Hield could have scored. Dana Altman tried a variety of looks defensively, including a matchup zone and man-to-man, but to no avail.

Essentially, Oregon experienced a feeling that many teams faced with the task of slowing down Hield have felt this season: powerlessness.

But to boil this game down to “they had Buddy and Oregon didn’t” would be far too simplistic an approach to take. In addition to being one of the nation’s best offensive teams, Oklahoma’s also ranked 14th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers.

They don’t do it with pressure defense, but the Sooners do a good job of keeping opponents out of the lane and forcing them to make tough shots. That’s what happened to Oregon, which shot 38.9 percent from the field and 4-for-21 from beyond the arc. Oregon had turnover issues early, and that combined with Hield’s 17-point first half resulted in an 18-point halftime hole that was too much for the Pac-12 champions to climb out of.

Elgin Cook finished with 24 points to lead three Oregon players in double figures, but far too often the Ducks lacked the fluidity on offense that was a trademark of many of their 31 wins on the season.

Lon Kruger’s team has shown throughout the season that, while Hield is certainly their feature option, this is no one-man operation. On nights when Hield wasn’t as efficient with his shooting others stepped forward, such as Jordan Woodard in Thursday’s win over Texas A&M (his most recent act) and Isaiah Cousins on multiple occasions as well. That wasn’t the case Saturday as tose two combined to shoot just 7-for-20 from the field, scoring 24 points, but Cousins dished out a game-high seven assists and freshman guard Christian James chipped in with ten rebounds off the bench as well.

Five of James’ rebounds came on the offensive end, and those second-chance opportunities (OU finished with an offensive rebounding percentage of 43.8 percent) proved costly in the first half. Those contributions, along with the front court tandem of Ryan Spangler and Khadeem Lattin, are why Oklahoma can win two more games once in Houston.

That all being said, Saturday night was all about the latest virtuoso performance from a player whose hard work in Norman has paid off. As a freshman Hield was thought to be more valuable as a perimeter defender, as he averaged 7.8 points per game and shot just 38.8 percent from the field and 23.8 percent from three with a shooting stroke that needed a lot of work. Going from that to a junior season in which he won Big 12 Player of the Year for the first time, it made sense that Hield would entertain thoughts of turning pro.

But the combination of a second-round grade from NBA execs and the “unfinished business” of wanting to get to a Final Four led to Hield deciding to return from his senior season. Hield will step onto the Final Four stage next weekend, and he’ll be joined by a cast of teammates who themselves have shown the ability to step forward when needed.

No. 2 Oklahoma shuts down Texas A&M, rolls into Elite Eight

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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.

Buddy Hield scores 39 as No. 6 Oklahoma holds off No. 21 Iowa State

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Oklahoma senior guard Buddy Hield and Iowa State senior forward Georges Niang, two of America’s best players, were on display in the final quarterfinal of the Big 12 tournament Thursday night. And both lived up to the praise that’s been heaped upon them this season, with Hield scoring an efficient 39 points and Niang countering with 31 after dealing with first-half foul trouble.

But in the end Oklahoma was able to do enough to hang on for the 79-76 win, doing so despite an off night from beyond the arc.

The Sooners shot just 4-for-21 from three on the night, and for a team so reliant on the three that would normally spell doom. In each of Oklahoma’s last four losses they shot no better than 35.7 percent from three (at Texas), so what would shooting below 20 percent against a team with the offensive weapons that Iowa State lead to? Not a loss, thanks to the masterful performance produced by Hield.

Hield, who shot 2-for-6 from three, made 12 of his 15 two-point attempts and shot 9-for-9 from the foul line. Matt Thomas, Iowa State’s best perimeter defender, did his best to keep up with the national Player of the Year candidate and force him to make tough shots. But that’s a task easier said than done, and Hield still managed to make the offensive plays the Sooners needed him to make. Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler scored ten points apiece, and at a combined 7-for-19 from the field (Jordan Woodard scored four points on 1-for-8 shooting) they weren’t all that efficient against the Cyclones.

Subpar nights like those put more pressure on Hield to score, but as he has on many occasions this season the senior guard rose to the challenge. This isn’t a formula Oklahoma will look to rely upon as the games get even bigger, as players such as Cousins, Spangler and Woodard are better than they showed Thursday night. But in Hield they have a talent that few teams can match, and even fewer can manage to slow down.

Iowa State made its charge in the second half, but the combination of Hield and a high turnover count proved to be too much to overcome. Iowa State committed 18 turnovers, with the Sooners converting those into 17 points on the night. They won’t run into many players the caliber of Hield in the NCAA tournament, and one would think that the Cyclones won’t turn the ball over as often either. But if there’s a concern for Steve Prohm it’s the health of his point guard, as Monté Morris looked nothing like himself as he played with a right shoulder injury.

Morris had just one of those 18 turnovers, but he scored five points on 1-for-9 shooting. Iowa State needs Morris to be at his best, or close to it, if they’re to beat the nation’s best teams and wasn’t Thursday night. Losing in the quarterfinals is a disappointing result, but it gets Morris some additional rest ahead of the NCAA tournament. Niang nearly pushed Iowa State to the win, but some issues on their end and the presence of Hield resulted in the Cyclones coming up short.

No. 6 Oklahoma holds off No. 19 Baylor after concerning collapse

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Oklahoma got off to a hot start and was able to hold off No. 19 Baylor, 73-71, on Tuesday night as the Sooners almost blew a massive lead.

The No. 6 Sooners (23-6, 11-6) were ahead 30-9 in the first half and 46-25 at the half before the Bears made a furious second-half comeback. Baylor was able to force turnovers and get quick scores and take advantage of Oklahoma’s lackluster second-half start as they rallied to take a 68-67 lead late in the second half. After Oklahoma re-gained the lead, Baylor had a chance to tie down three points with under 15 seconds left, Oklahoma fouled Baylor’s Taurean Prince with 2.4 seconds left. Prince made the first and intentionally missed the second free throw and the Sooners ran out the clock from there.

Buddy Hield led the Sooners with 23 points as he went 8-for-19 from the field. Ryan Spangler came up big on the interior for Oklahoma as he finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.

Baylor (21-9, 10-7) had a tremendous comeback on the road but ultimately fell short. The Bears’ pressure defense and effort in the early second half when they seemed completely out of it is a good trait to have for March. Freshman King McClure played a good game with 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting while Taurean Prince also finished with 17 points while adding nine rebounds.

For Oklahoma, maintaining enough control to win and coming back after blowing that lead is important. But the consecutive games with long stretches of terrible play is a very troubling sign for the Sooners this late in the season. Does this team get tired or complacent? Are they not hitting jumpers because they don’t have enough legs? Oklahoma lost to Texas on the road for playing terribly the final seven minutes and they played a similar poor stretch early in the second half that almost cost them this game.

And this sort of thing is happening against top-25 teams for Oklahoma. So it’s not like someone is sneaking up on them at this point. The Sooners close the Big 12 schedule with TCU but we’ll have to see if this trend of long stretches of poor play continues in the last few games before the NCAA tournament.