Jordan Woodard

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VIDEO: Jordan Woodard rebounds, converts own missed free throw

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Faced with their largest halftime deficit of the season, No. 2 Oklahoma needed a spark to start the second half against No. 2 Villanova. Lon Kruger’s team came out with much greater effort, with that best exemplified by guard Jordan Woodard rebounding his own missed free throw and converting the put-back.

And he did it all in one smooth motion, too.

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. 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.

Wesley Iwundu, Kansas State knock off No. 1 Oklahoma

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One of the big questions regarding No. 1 Oklahoma was how they’d handle an off shooting night. On multiple occasions this season the Sooners have managed to win in spite of a subpar effort from one of their guards, thanks in large part to national Player of the Year frontrunner Buddy Hield. But what would they do against a team that managed to limit Hield (by his standards)?

That’s what happened at Kansas State Saturday night, and the Sooners did not have the right answers for the Wildcats on either end of the floor. Wesley Iwundu scored 22 points, dished out seven assists and played excellent defense on Hield throughout the game to lead the way. And freshman forward Dean Wade chipped in with 17 points and seven rebounds off the bench as the Wildcats won by the final score of 80-69.

Hield scored 23 points but did so on 7-for-16 shooting, and a lot of that damage was done during the second half as he scored 17 points during the game’s final 20 minutes. But it wasn’t enough as the Sooners didn’t get much from anyone other than Ryan Spangler (nine points) as they looked to mount a comeback. Jordan Woodard, who’s been a consistent supplementary scoring option this season, went scoreless Saturday and that essentially left Oklahoma with three scorers (Hield, Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins).

It’s highly unlikely that anyone’s going to completely take away Hield; the key there is to make him work for everything he gets and the long, athletic Iwundu managed to do that. But if you can take away one (or more) of Oklahoma’s supplementary scorers you’ve got a shot at knocking them off.

Oklahoma also had issues defensively, as the Wildcats shot 52.9 percent from the field. Iwundu was very good at finding scoring opportunities not only for himself but for his teammates as well, and in the post players such as Wade and D.J. Johnson were effective against Spangler, Khadeem Lattin and Akolda Manyang. Kansas State outplayed Oklahoma in the post, and their execution offensively helped the Wildcats pull off the upset despite committing 15 turnovers.

If not for those turnovers the margin likely would have been worse for Oklahoma, which scored 26 points off of Kansas State turnovers and many of its 15 fast break points came via K-State mistakes. The Sooners are lethal in transition, something we’ve seen on many occasions this season. Kansas State, when they didn’t turn the ball over, kept Oklahoma from running out and finding the quality looks that have made them so successful.

As a result, Bruce Weber’s Wildcats made sure that Hield and his fellow Oklahoma seniors will graduate without a win in Manhattan.