The Oklahoma mascot, right, greets the Oregon mascot before an NCAA college basketball game in the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 26, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill
March 26, 2016

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Buddy Hield was brilliant from start to finish for Oklahoma, scoring 37 points with a fluid jumper and an answer for everything Oregon tried against him defensively.

In fact, there was only one remaining question after Hield climbed a stepladder to cut down the net that he had just set on fire in the West Region final of the NCAA Tournament.

Can Buddyball take the Sooners all the way to their first national title?

Hield hit eight 3-pointers in another utterly dominant performance, and Oklahoma advanced to its first Final Four since 2002 with an 80-68 victory over Oregon on Saturday.

''It's special,'' Hield said afterward, a piece of the net tied to his Final Four hat. ''As a kid, you dream of having games like this. ... I'm just happy that we all made it, and we've just got to finish it out.''

Jordan Woodard added 13 points for the Sooners (29-7), who streaked to an 18-point lead in the first half and never let the Ducks back in it. Oklahoma is in the Final Four for the fifth time in school history, and coach Lon Kruger is back in college basketball's biggest showcase for the second time after a 22-year absence.

''It's about seeing the feelings of satisfaction on the players' faces,'' Kruger said. ''They feel good about this right now, but they'll feel even better about it years from now. They've got a special, special spot.''

The regional final was a monument to the formidable talent of Hield, the Sooners' senior star who passed on NBA riches for another chance to reach the Final Four.

He carved up the Ducks' defense from all distances with his smooth outside shot and a knack for momentum-swinging buckets.

Even Orange County resident Kobe Bryant watched admiringly from the stands, prompting some Oregon players to compare Hield to the Lakers' retiring superstar.

''I'm not Kobe Bryant,'' Hield said with an embarrassed grin. ''They should not compare me. I just make shots. Me and Kobe (are) in two different classes.''

The Sooners have never won a title, but Hield's talent suggests history could be made in Houston. Their traveling fans serenaded him with chants of ''Buddy! Buddy!'' after the final whistle.

Sure, he didn't have an assist in 39 minutes. Hield didn't need the help.

''Buddy just makes shots,'' Kruger said. ''He's just unbelievable. He shoots with great confidence and doesn't force many. He got it going early, and he made some big shots there in the second half to keep them from cutting into the lead, too.''

Elgin Cook scored 24 points for the Ducks (31-7), whose 11-game winning streak ended one game shy of the second Final Four in school history.

''No one expected it,'' Cook said. ''We were confident. We believed in each other, but this hurts a lot.''

Hield scored 17 points in the first half, capped by drilling his fifth 3-pointer from three steps behind the line with 4 seconds left to put the Sooners up 48-30 at the break.

He hit two more huge 3-pointers down the stretch, including a graceful, high-arching shot with 4:20 to play that pushed Oklahoma's lead back to 17 points.

''I thought he had a phenomenal game,'' Oregon coach Dana Altman said. ''And every time I felt like we were getting ready to do something, he would jump up and make a shot.''

Oregon had beaten six NCAA Tournament-bound teams by double digits during its winning streak, but Oklahoma's outside shooting and rebounding led to a first-half hole that was too deep for the Pac-12 champions. Hield had the highest-scoring performance against the Ducks all season.

With this breakthrough win, the 22-year-old Hield's senior year has become everything he anticipated when he decided to stay at Oklahoma for a fourth season. The two-time Big 12 Player of the Year scored at least 30 points for the 12th time this season and matched his career high for 3-pointers, while his 37 points were his third-best total of the season.

LON'S TURN

Kruger is headed to the second Final Four of his 30-year head coaching career at five schools. He made it in 1994 with Florida, but hadn't been back.

EXPERIENCE COUNTS

Oklahoma capitalized on its veteran consistency in the one-and-done era. Hield started alongside Ryan Spangler, Woodard and Isaiah Cousins for the 104th consecutive game, and every Oklahoma starter contributed to a poised, resilient performance.

EARLY GOING

Oklahoma jumped out to an early lead with 11 points in the first 5:08 from Hield, including a trio of 3-pointers. The Sooners also hit the offensive boards from the start, generating several easy buckets off rebounds. Oregon looked jittery, as evidenced by seven turnovers in the first 12 minutes for a team that's usually cautious with the ball. Oklahoma had nine 3-pointers in the first half - the same number of total baskets managed by Oregon.

TIP-INS

Oklahoma: Hield became the second-leading scorer in Big 12 history during the first half. He trails only Baylor's LaceDarius Dunn. ... Hollis Price and Aaron McGhee led coach Kelvin Sampson's Sooners to the Final Four 14 years ago, only to lose to Indiana in the national semifinal.

Oregon: Leading scorer Dillon Brooks managed seven points before fouling out.

UP NEXT

Oklahoma travels to the Final Four in Houston.

You May Like