Khadeem Lattin

AP Photo/Raymond Thompson

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.

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

AP Photo/Bill Feig
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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.

THREE TAKEAWAYS from Kansas knocking off Oklahoma

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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There was a lot to dive into after Kansas knocked off Oklahoma 109-106 in triple overtime on Monday night. We talked about the game itself and the controversial call at the end already. Here are the three things that we can take away from the game moving forward:

1. Buddy Hield may very well be the National Player of the Year favorite after his performance: I mean, the guy entered the night averaging 24.7 points and shooting 49.2 percent from three for a team that was ranked No. 1 in the country in the Coaches Poll and was undefeated in January. He already was deservedly in the conversation, which is why we had him ranked third in our Player of the Year Power Rankings for a couple weeks now. But after this? He went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and torched the Jayhawks for 46 points, eight boards and seven assists on 13-for-23 shooting from the floor and 8-for-15 from beyond the arc on a night where the consensus (rightfully) was that Kansas played him well defensively. To put it another way, Brice Johnson had 39 points, 23 boards, three steals and three blocks at Florida State tonight and I’d argue that Hield’s performance was far more impressive.

In fact, when you factor in the locale, the opponent, the defense that was being played and the moment that it came in, I’m not sure I can remember the last time that I’ve seen a more impressive individual performance than this. Bill Self has led Kansas to 11 straight Big 12 regular season titles and he’s lost nine times in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Scott Drew, who has built a good basketball program at Baylor out of the rubble that was left by Dave Bliss, has lost nine times at Phog Allen in his 12-year tenure with the Bears. Oklahoma hasn’t won in Phog Allen in Hield’s lifetime.

And yet, if Khadeem Lattin makes a free throw at the end of regulation, Oklahoma would have won this game.

That’s how well Hield played.

While I’m not yet convinced that Hield is now the Player of the Year frontrunner just yet — my POY Power Rankings come out tomorrow — I wouldn’t necessarily argue with anyone that put him there.

Not right now.

2. We can’t doubt Oklahoma as a contender anymore: What was the knock on this Oklahoma team this season? They didn’t really have a four-man that they could trust? I’m not sure that story line is really a thing anymore, not after the way Lattin played. I know he missed that free throw at the end of regulation, but he finished the night with 10 points, 14 boards, six blocks and a pair of assists in 39 minutes. He was terrific, and played like a guy Oklahoma can rely on as Ryan Spangler’s front court counterpart.

Spangler isn’t a guy I would define as a ‘Land Warrior’, but his game isn’t built on explosiveness or athleticism. He’s strong and he’s physical, but offensively, what he’s most effective at is spacing the floor. He can set brutal ball-screens and his ability to knock down threes makes him a nightmare in pick-and-pop actions. He’s currently shooting better than 45 percent from beyond the arc this season. I say all that to say this: With the talent Lon Kruger has in his back court this season — Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard flanking Hield — Oklahoma can play four around one and not have to worry about having a low-post scorer all that much. Their guards are that good at playmaking. What Lattin provides — or at least provided on Monday night — was energy on the glass, a shot-blocking presence defensively and a guy that could finish off dump-offs and lobs at the rim.

I’m not expecting 10, 14 and six from him on a nightly basis, but that kind of effort level and production ceiling is a great sign for this group.

3. But the Big 12 still runs through Lawrence: That ain’t changing until someone makes it change, and Oklahoma came very close to doing in on Monday. The way to win a regular season conference title, particularly in a league with a double round-robin like the Big 12, is to defend your home court against everyone and to pick off enough opponents on the road that you finish atop the standings. As I wrote earlier, Kansas simply doesn’t lose games at home, and while they may end up losing four or five games on the road in a given season, they have a margin for error because … no one beats them in the Phog.

Oklahoma had the chance on Monday. They missed out on it, and now we’re looking at a situation where Kansas is, once against, in driver’s seat in the league title race.

No. 3 Oklahoma stays unbeaten with 84-81 win over Hawaii

Associated Press
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HONOLULU (AP) Buddy Hield had 27 points and nine rebounds as No. 3 Oklahoma remained unbeaten, escaping with an 84-81 victory over Hawaii in a Diamond Head Classic semifinal on Wednesday night.

The Sooners (10-0) got a career-high 17 points from Khadeem Lattin and 14 from Isaiah Cousins.

Hield was 7 of 16 from the field, including 5 of 9 from 3-point range, and he made all six of his free throw attempts. He had 18 points at halftime.

Roderick Bobbitt scored a career-high 32 points and had six assists for the Rainbow Warriors (8-2), who had their four-game winning streak snapped. It was their first loss on their home court this season.

Hawaii had a chance to tie it at the buzzer, but Bobbitt’s desperation 3-pointer was no good.

Oklahoma, which led by as many as 16 points in the first half, was up 41-40 at halftime.

There were six ties and 12 lead changes in the game.

The game was tied at 75 on a slicing layup by Hawaii’s Isaac Fleming with 4:22 remaining, but the Sooners took the lead for good on two free throws by Hield with 1:42 to play.

Bobbitt drew a foul attempting a 3-pointer and made his first two attempts to get Hawaii within 83-81 with 4 seconds to play. He missed the third free throw intentionally and Lattin grabbed the rebound for Oklahoma.

Lattin made the first of two free throws before Hawaii got the ball back with 1.2 seconds to play.

Oklahoma got off to a hot start as Hield scored 16 points in the first 9 minutes. Akolda Manyang’s banker with 10:42 left in the half gave the Sooners a 25-9 lead, but the Rainbow Warriors went on an 8-1 run to take the lead at 27-26.

Hawaii scored 18 points off 12 Oklahoma turnovers and held the edge in bench points, 23-10.

Both teams were 24 of 33 from the free throw line.

Oklahoma leads the all-time series against Hawaii 2-1.

TIP-INS

Oklahoma: It was the 28th time in Hield’s career that he eclipsed the 20-point mark. He had a career-high 33 points against Creighton on Dec. 19, and 25 against Washington State on Tuesday.

Hawaii: It was the highest-ranked opponent for the Rainbow Warriors since beating No. 2 Kansas in the 1997 Rainbow Classic. It is their best start to a season since winning their first eight games in 2004.

UP NEXT

Oklahoma will play Harvard for the tournament title Friday.

Hawaii will meet Auburn in the third-place game Friday.