Wooden Watch: Denzel Valentine and Buddy Hield neck-and-neck in National Player of the Year race
3:52 | College Basketball
Wooden Watch: Denzel Valentine and Buddy Hield neck-and-neck in National Player of the Year race
Friday March 11th, 2016

Buddy Hield isn’t done making his case for the Wooden Award.

The Oklahoma senior poured in 39 points to lead the Sooners over Iowa State, 79–76, in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals on Thursday night, the second-most points scored by a player in Big 12 tournament history (Texas Tech’s Mike Singletary​ scored 43 in 2009).

In the process, Hield joined Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley as the only Big 12 players to record 10 30-point games in a season and passed Jacob Pullen to take over fourth place on the conference’s all-time scoring list.

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​Hield, who was a unanimous selection for SI’s All-America first team, accounted for 49% of Oklahoma’s offense. He shot 14 of 21 from the field, 9 of 9 from the free throw line and added nine rebounds, two blocks and a steal. His full arsenal of talent was on display as well: Hield hit a pair of threes, got to the rim through traffic on more than one occasion and was even on the receiving end of an electrifying alley-oop.

The senior’s big night helped mask the fact that the rest of the Sooners shot a collective 33% (14 for 42) and were 2 of 15 from three. Oklahoma is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country, but the narrow win was a reminder of why the Sooners’ reliance on their jump shooting leaves them fragile when their shots aren’t falling. Hield was able to bail his team out on Thursday, but as good as he is he can’t always be counted on to be Superman.

Overshadowed by Hield’s heroics in Kansas City was the also brilliant play of Iowa State senior Georges Niang, who nearly willed a late Cyclones comeback to fruition. Niang scored 31 points on 13-of-18 shooting and added seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks, his third 30-point game of the year. But Niang fouled out with 32 seconds remaining and Oklahoma up four, forcing him to watch from the bench as his bid to end his college career with a third straight Big 12 tournament championship slipped away.

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Instead, the Sooners will take on West Virginia in the conference semifinals on Saturday while the Cyclones retreat to Ames to regroup for the NCAA tournament. Kansas-Baylor is set as the other Big 12 semifinal, meaning if  Oklahoma and the Jayhawks win theirs, it would bring Kansas-Oklahoma Part III for the tournament title. That would be a welcome sight for college basketball fans, who were already treated to two classic games between the schools this year (the Jayhawks narrowly won both).

Hield famously scored 46 points in a triple-overtime loss to Kansas in January, but Thursday’s total was the most he’s scored in regulation this season. His main competition for the Wooden Award is considered to be Michigan State senior guard Denzel Valentine, but Hield’s 39-point night may have put him in front, at least for now. Valentine and the Spartans play their first game of the Big Ten tournament on Friday against Ohio State, and voting for the prestigious award will take place March 14-21.

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