Isaiah Cousins

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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.

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. 3 Oklahoma bounces back, wins at No. 10 West Virginia

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Senior guard Buddy Hield receives many of the headlines for No. 3 Oklahoma and rightfully so, as the explosive scorer has been one of the nation’s best players this season. Add in fellow guards Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard, and the Sooners have one of the best backcourt rotations in America. However this is more than just a jump-shooting team, and they’re more than a three-player unit as well.

That was all on display Saturday as the Sooners beat No. 10 West Virginia 76-62 in Morgantown. Hield scored a game-high 29 points, but the Sooners’ ability to rebound and take care of the basketball proved to be just as important against “Press Virginia.”

Oklahoma won the battle on the boards, rebounding 45 percent of their available missed shots. There wasn’t a huge edge in second-chance points (16-15 OU), but having to defend for longer stretches had an impact on West Virginia on the offensive end. West Virginia shot just 33.3 percent from the field and 7-for-21 from three, and after Jaysean Paige tied the game at 52 with 7:49 remaining the Mountaineers made just three of their final ten shot attempts.

Oklahoma found its second wind during that decisive stretch, with Hield getting going and Khadeem Lattin making some key contributions himself.

Lattin isn’t much of a scorer, and he doesn’t have to be given the weapons on that roster. But Oklahoma needs him to be a factor as a rebounder and defender if they’re to play deep into March, and that was the case against a West Virginia frontline led by Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton. Lattin finished the game with nine points, 13 rebounds (six offensive) and six blocked shots, falling one point short of his first double-double since a win over Kansas State in early January.

Ryan Spangler (eight points, six rebounds) was relatively quiet for most of Saturday’s game, but Lattin’s play more than made up for it and helped Oklahoma control the action in the paint.

The other key for the Sooners was their value of the basketball. In the first meeting Oklahoma turned the ball over 18 times in a game they won in the final seconds. Saturday, Oklahoma committed just nine turnovers, taking away an area in which West Virginia has managed to account for subpar shooting on many occasions since going to their pressure defense. Without those open-floor opportunities, West Virginia was forced to look to establish its offense in the half-court for most of the game.

And with Oklahoma being a team that looks to force opponents into making challenged shots as opposed turning them over, the Mountaineers found themselves in trouble during the game’s most important stage.

Oklahoma got its offense going during that period, making six of its final ten shots from the field and outscoring WVU 24-10 over the final 7:49. But getting out of Morgantown with the win would have proven far more difficult had Oklahoma not taken care of business defensively and on the glass.

Texas Tech pulls off another upset, beating No. 3 Oklahoma

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After picking up wins over two ranked teams in Iowa State and Baylor, Texas Tech entered Wednesday’s game against No. 3 Oklahoma in search of another quality win for its résumé. Sure enough Tubby Smith’s Red Raiders pulled it off, beating the Sooners 65-63 despite Oklahoma having two shots at the game-tying basket in the final seconds. Aaron Ross scored 17 points and Keenan Evans 14 for Texas Tech, but the key for them was what they were able to do defensively.

Oklahoma was unable to get out in transition for much of the night, and in the half-court they struggled to find the clean looks they’ve taken advantage of for most of this season. The Sooners shot 38.2 percent from the field and 6-for-23 from three, and Buddy Hield struggled as well.

Hield scored ten points in the first five minutes of the game. From that point on he managed to score just six, with the Red Raiders pestering him all night long. The national Player of the Year candidate began to press some as a result, leading to his turning the ball over five times. Add in Isaiah Cousins scoring ten points on 3-for-9 shooting and Ryan Spangler going for just five on 2-for-7 from the field, and Oklahoma didn’t have the offensive production it needed to win outside of Jordan Woodard’s 25-point effort.

Within a week’s time Texas Tech has gone from being a team well out of the NCAA tournament picture to one that has three quality wins many other bubble teams can’t match. Even with Toddrick Gotcher (who may have traveled in the final seconds) and Devaughntah Williams struggling offensively, Texas Tech went toe-to-toe with Oklahoma thanks to the contributions of others. Evans has been a much-improved player over the last four games, and forward Zach Smith added ten points and nine rebounds as he and Ross outplayed the Oklahoma front court.

As a result Texas Tech is beginning to add wins that will enhance a résumé that already looks good from a computer standpoint. The finish to the season won’t be easy, as the Red Raiders still have games on the road against No. 2 Kansas and No. 10 West Virginia to navigate.

That certainly looks daunting, but so did the three-game stretch Texas Tech just took on. And with the confidence that Tubby Smith’s team is playing with, anything is possible for the Red Raiders.

No. 1 Oklahoma denies LSU a much-needed signature win

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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.

No. 1 Oklahoma bounces back with impressive, blowout win at No. 13 Baylor

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Baylor’s reign atop the Big 12 standings was certainly short-lived as No. 1 Oklahoma went into Waco on Saturday and completely eviscerated the Bears, winning 82-72 in what was arguably the most impressive offensive performance you’ll see from any team in college basketball this season.

The Sooners hit 16 of their first 24 threes. They shot 62.0 percent from the floor on the night. They assisted on 29 of their 31 field goals, including their first 24 buckets of the game. Every starter finished with at least three assists, led by the nine that were handed out by Isaiah Cousins. And perhaps most impressive is that they scored 1.205 points-per-possession despite grabbing just a single offensive rebound and going scoreless over the final 5:35, a span that included eight Sooner possessions. When Oklahoma scored their final point of the game, they were averaging 1.367 PPP.

It was total dominance, and it was also a bit of a statement win for the Sooners.

Oklahoma entered Saturday having lost a heart-breaker on Monday night at Iowa State, their second loss of the season and the second time that they’ve fallen on the road in league play. Saying that there were people questioning how good they are isn’t quite accurate, but there was some doubt whether or not this truly was the No. 1 team in the country and a team that would be capable of snapping Kansas’ run atop the Big 12.

No one will be asking those questions anymore.

In fact, I think it’s fair to say that the Sooners are in a great spot. They’re currently sitting at 5-2 in the Big 12, tied for first with the Bears as well as West Virginia and Kansas, assuming those two can take care of business against Texas Tech and Texas, respectively. But the difference for the Sooners is that they’ve already played Kansas, Iowa State and Baylor on the road in addition to landing wins over West Virginia and Iowa State at home.

In other words, no team in the conference has as favorable of a schedule down the stretch as the Sooners, and it’s not a stretch to say that their home game against Kansas on Feb. 13th could end up being the game that determines whether or not the Jayhawks will win their 12th straight regular season title.

As far as Baylor is concerned, they’re now 14-4 on the season with four losses to teams currently in the RPI top ten. Three of those losses came on the road to teams that are in or around the current top 25 and the fourth was, obviously, to Oklahoma. They also own a win at Iowa State. They’ll be fine.