Sooners look to regroup after bad loss in Hield's last game
HOUSTON (AP) Oklahoma's wonderful season ended with a thud.
Embarrassed by a 44-point loss to Villanova in the Final Four, the Sooners are left to figure out what's next.
''Disappointed these guys today have this feeling, but not disappointed in this group for what they've accomplished,'' coach Lon Kruger said. ''They've been outstanding. I'm very proud of them. They've changed the culture of basketball at the University of Oklahoma and they will have an effect on the program for a lot of years ahead.''
The last game of superstar Buddy Hield's career at Oklahoma was perhaps his worst. The senior from the Bahamas, who had 37 points in the regional final to punch Oklahoma's ticket to Houston, was held to just nine points on 4 of 12 shooting. It was only his second single-digit performance of the season.
''Just really appreciate everything that he's done for the program,'' Kruger said. ''I think college basketball, as well. He's a good story.''
After such a frustrating game, the only thing the Big 12's all-time leading scorer could do was look ahead to his next chapter.
''Got to go chase my dreams next,'' he said. ''Play in the NBA if I get a chance, I'll take the opportunity and make the best out of it.''
Though Hield's departure will leave the biggest hole for the Sooners (29-8) next season, they're also losing two other starters from this team. Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler also played their final college games on Saturday night.
Those three seniors combined with junior Jordan Woodard have given Oklahoma consistency not often seen among top college programs over the past three seasons. None of the players missed a single game in three years, starting 105 straight games together.
Kruger is happy with the work his upperclassman have done and the legacy the seniors leave behind.
''(They were) a tremendous boost,'' Kruger said. ''What the seniors have done, what they've left as they leave the program in terms of a standard, work ethic - as good of ambassadors as they've been in the community, the young guys have benefited tremendously from those guys.''
Woodard will lead the returnees after his 13 points a game were second on the team to Hield.
They'll also return their fifth starter, sophomore Khadeem Lattin. He started every game for the Sooners this season, but had a difficult time on Saturday night, scoring two points with five rebounds before fouling out. The game capped an emotional week for Lattin, whose grandmother died of cancer soon after the Sooners arrived in Houston. He sprinted off the court as soon as the final buzzer sounded on Saturday night, not waiting to shake hands.
Kruger was certainly not happy with how his team let the game get so out of hand on Saturday, but doesn't think it should be the lasting memory of the season.
''This is a good group of guys,'' he said. ''They handled it well. Khadeem was disappointed with fouling out. That's OK. We lost our composure there obviously and things came apart. You never like handling things like that. We'd liked to have handled their run a little bit better ... (but) we didn't.''
He believes the experience his younger players got from this season and the tournament run will be valuable moving forward.
''They'll get right back after it next week. Start trying to build that foundation for next year,'' Kruger said. ''Given so many are gone, graduating, a lot of open opportunities ahead.''