Heroic Hield helps Oklahoma stave off Texas
NORMAN, Okla. — About two hours before he crossed over to his left and drained a game-winning shot, burnishing his legend at the misery of yet another opponent, Buddy Hield paused his pregame shooting routine to say hello to an usher. She shouted something from the concourse of the Lloyd Noble Center, and Oklahoma’s star guard returned the salutation, like he was reconnecting with a long-lost friend. And then he kept on shooting.
By then, Hield had been at it for a while.
“We came here for shootaround at noon,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said. “There was one guy on the floor: Buddy Hield.”
He showed up at the gym around 8 a.m.—he is thankful for online classes, he notes—and began the preparation for what would become a 63–60 victory over the Longhorns, powered by his three-point dagger with 1.3 seconds left. In the arena tunnel late Monday, Hield was asked if he always showed up so early on game days.
“Sometimes earlier,” he said.
The legend grows and grows, and it grew another 10 sizes on a frantic Monday. Here are three thoughts on what transpired:
The best closer in college basketball cures all ills, including his own
With 3:05 left to play, Hield hit a three-pointer from the wing. It was just the senior guard’s second make from long distance on the night, shooting just 2 of 9 from beyond the arc at that moment. Texas had done a terrific job making Hield work for his looks, and to be sure, there were a few attempts that looked good until they rimmed out, deflating the expectant crowd with each miss.
“I’d been struggling all night trying to get a shot off,” Hield allowed after the game. “I finally made the last two, which is all that matters.”
Indeed, this is the problem Oklahoma’s star presents: None of the struggle matter, ever. The next shot can be the great eraser. So Hield, who finished with a game-high 27 points, hit that three, and then he scored on a drive, and then he hit two free throws, and then he hit two more free throws, and then he sprinkled in a missed step-back jumper presumably for drama’s sake and then he cold-bloodedly buried the game-winner from the left wing. The entire night had been agony, and then he scored Oklahoma’s last 12 points (and 21 total in the second half) to save the day.
Long live the legend of Buddy.
“The thing is, for him, this was numbers-wise another day at the office,” Smart said. “That’s what’s crazy. He does this every night.”
The Big 12 Coach of the Year might have been on the visitors’ bench
All due credit to Sooners coach Lon Kruger, who has a 20–3 team and a national title favorite on his hand. But his team can shoot, which is not necessarily the case with Texas, which came into the game 170th nationally in effective field goal percentage (50.4%). And Kruger’s team has a healthy starting center, which is definitely not the case with Texas, which spent another night with Cam Ridley on the bench as a spectator, a boot on his injured foot and a crutch at his side.
And yet here are the Longhorns, 7–4 in Big 12 play, having road wins at West Virginia and Baylor to their name and very nearly adding the nation’s No. 3 team to that list.
“We proved ourselves,” said Texas guard Isaiah Taylor, who finished with 19 points. “We proved to people outside our locker room that we can play with anybody.”
If the trajectory continues in a grueling stretch, that should get Smart consideration for top coaching honors in the Big 12, in his first season in the league. Just examine more closely part of Texas’s game plan for Oklahoma: The coaches decided to switch everything, so as to limit rotations and not lose shooters. This occasionally left 6'11" center Prince Ibeh in space guarding Isaiah Cousins, the Sooners’ All-Big 12 caliber point guard. And it worked. Oklahoma shot 52% in the second half, but Smart ascribed that to his guards getting beat by Sooners guards.
“I thought our bigs did a terrific job,” Smart said. “Can’t really say it worked because we lost the game. But they really were effective on a lot of possessions.”
Texas left Norman thinking it deserved to come out on top. That wasn’t enough for Smart—“We came here to win the game,” he said—but it is saying something that this roster was put in a position to make that happen.
This might have been one of Oklahoma’s biggest wins, given what comes next
An 11-point loss at Kansas State last Saturday left the Sooners displeased with themselves and left everyone wondering if the heavy workload for their core players was beginning to take its toll. Squeezing out the victory Monday, ahead of a titanic rematch with Kansas on Saturday, extinguished any threat of imminent panic.
“It was big time,” Sooners center Ryan Spangler said of the win. “We weren’t happy with the way we played [at Kansas State].”
Hield and Spangler logged another 38 minutes on Monday, and Cousins was right there with 37. But they’d get Tuesday off, and they’d have four days to get right for the Jayhawks. And the rest of us have four days to imagine what Hield has in store for them this time.