Can Hield stroke the Sooners to a national title?

Ken Cross

April 01, 2016 at 3:05 pm.

Apr 1, 2016; Houston , TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners guard Buddy Hield (24) during practice day prior to the 2016 NCAA Men's Final Four at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 1, 2016; Houston , TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners guard Buddy Hield (24) during practice day prior to the 2016 NCAA Men’s Final Four at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

By Ken Cross

No doubt, Buddy Hield should be named National Player of the Year and move on to the NBA where he will have a Golden State Warriors type of effect on the league with his three-point arsenal and unselfish demeanor.

This weekend could be another jewel in Hield’s crown as the Sooners open the Final Four against the stingy Villanova Wildcats, just after 6 p.m. EST in Reliant Stadium in Houston Texas.

“Buddy Buckets” has been lighting the nets all season with 25.1 points per game while shooting at a 49.9 percent clip and nailing 45.8 percent from the three-point line in an average of 35 minutes per game. Let’s not forget that even though he is known for scoring in such a rare zone, he is a key on the boards as well at 5.7 per game.

Hield puts up those numbers against the utmost concentration by the opponents’ defenses. In the end, it gives Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard driving lanes or spot up opportunities or allows Khadeem Lattin or Ryan Spangler to have openings inside.

“The way people are guarding Buddy and getting into him, it impacts everything,” said Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger. “It helps create opportunities going at the goal and maybe when two guys are on him one guy might roll and we can get a lob. Or when he is in a position where he occupies his guy, Khadeem might be open at the rim or if Buddy stays in the corner, it opens up driving lanes for Jordan or Isaiah.”

He was so zoned-in last Saturday against Oregon, going 13-of-20 from the floor and scoring 37 points to pace the Sooners to the 80-68 win and the Final Four berth, that it seemed all he had to do was step back and then he would drill yet another three. He had six and each of them kept athletic Oregon from ever making a run. Hield, though, credits Cousins for why he is able to make incisions on opponents’ defenses.

“Isaiah, he’s done a really good job,” noted Hield. “If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t have had all these shots in rhythm, and he gave me good shots in rhythm. He just has a knack, a good change of pace, good change of speed, and he just puts the pressure on the defense, because once he gets past them it’s hard to maintain him because they’re always helping so much.”

Interestingly, Hield has picked up his scoring in the tournament as he has averaged 29.3 points per game while shooting 56.7 percent from the floor in playing 37.7 minutes. Hield knows he can bail out the defense if he has to and that level of confidence is strong for Oklahoma and Kruger.

“Just knowing when the defense slips up and I’ve got a chance to put it up, I just put it up because my confidence is so high,” explained Hield. “I know that I am just taking shots in rhythm and taking shots that I know I am capable of making.”

As for the Sooners’ defense, it is so athletic that it forces a plethora of turnovers in surges. OU holds its opponents to 40.6 percent from the floor, so with this, it is a plus for a running game at another level.

“You can’t create a margin if you trade buckets,” commented Kruger. “So when you get stops and score, it goes from 6 to 12 and 12 to 15 and so forth. Our priority against Oregon was transition defense and getting to the board as well as congesting the lane. Our focus was really good.”

Playing Villanova in the Final Four will be a test in speeding up a very well-coached defensive team that can get up in the opponents’ guards and make it hard to even move. The offensive transition game and the triples out of that transition could be a major key in slowing down the tenacious Wildcats.

“I don’t think any of them are thinking, ‘Well we made it here so it’s okay,’” said Kruger of his veteran team. “They expect to play successfully against a very good Villanova team and take care of business and then get another very good opponent in the championship game.”