ANAHEIM-The Oregon Ducks’ lost opportunity to advance to the Final Four can be summed up in two words: Buddy Hield. After scoring just 17 points in the Sooners’ win against Texas A & M in the Sweet 16 matchup, Hield decided it was time to go to work against the Ducks, dropping a cold 37 points on Oregon to lead Oklahoma to a 80-68 win at the Anaheim Honda Center.
It was a great Easter present for Oklahoma fans. For the Ducks, the Easter Bunny probably should not show up after Oregon experienced their worst NCAA Tournament defeat since 2002. And it was all because of the growing legend that has become Buddy Hield.
A leading candidate for the John Wooden Award, which acknowledges the best player in the country, Hield looked locked, loaded and ready in the Elite Eight game.
“My teammates just found me in open spots, really,” Hield said. “Just catching the ball in rhythm and just being confident in every shot I take. I know coming in I had to be aggressive for us to win. So my teammates found me in good shots and I was able to step in and get good shots in rhythm. My teammates did a good job finding me all year, and tonight was another example of how they got me open.”
Hield got open a lot, especially behind the the three-point arc, where he connected on 8 of his 13 treys attempted during the game. You might say it was raining threes on the Ducks the way Hield was playing. Hield finished the game hitting 13 of the 20 shots he took from the field. With retiring Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant taking in the game, it was clear the lights were not too bright for Hield to handle.
“Oh, it’s special, to be honest with you. As a kid you dream of having games like this, Hield said. “But I just thank my teammates and my coaching staff to put me in the position to score the ball. And they gave me the confidence to put the ball up. Even though I had an off-night last game, I just came in confident, and they gave me the confidence to be aggressive every night.”
Well, Hield had his swagger going for him against Oregon. Averaging 27 points a game, the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year has the capabilities to putting the Sooners on his back and take them all the way to the national title. Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger knows he has the best offensive scoring weapon at the collegiate level.
“Buddy just makes shots,” Kruger said. “He’s just unbelievable in getting the ball up on top of the rim. He shoots with great confidence. Doesn’t force many. That’s the thing that’s been most amazing on the year. He shoots it for such a good percentage.
“He’s not a high-volume shot taker, he just makes a lot of shots. Not surprising that Buddy’s concern right off the bat was the turnovers because he doesn’t like that part of it. But, yeah, he got it going early and made some big shots there in the second half to keep them from cutting into the lead, too.”
What really kept Oregon from really making this contest a game was the hot shooting of Hield, and the flat performance from the Ducks. Oregon only made 38 percent of its shots from the field. It was worst for the Ducks in 3-point land. Oregon missed 17 of 21 shots from 3-point range. On the other side, the Sooners connected on half of the 3-point shots they attempted (12-24) in the game.
It’s hard to see another team another team more athletic, deeper and faster than Oregon. The Ducks more than met their match in Oklahoma. Both teams have rosters full of playmakers. On the afternoon before Easter Sunday, the Sooners proved to the Ducks that they are a step of ahead of them in the pedal to the metal department.
Even Dillon Brooks, who had an incredible game against Duke in the Sweet 16, couldn’t save Oregon from seeing that reality. Oklahoma was too, fast, too strong and too good. The Sooners made that point in the first half when they handed the Ducks an 18-point, intermission deficit, falling behind 48-30.
Just a very disappointing first half,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “They just killed us on the boards. They were much quicker to the ball, much more active. I’m not sure if it was the energy that was produced by them hitting threes, but they just did a tremendous job on the boards. In fact, they had 15 second-chance points, I believe, at halftime. The second half they must have only gotten one. But the first half I thought them getting those second opportunities for 15 points really put us in a hole that we could never recover from.”