Charles Barkley says that Buddy Hield is the best player in the NCAA Tournament and that he is going to be “very, very rich.”
Hield added to his draft value Saturday when he scored 37 points as the No. 2 seed Oklahoma Sooners raced to an 80-68 victory over No. 1 seeded Oregon and a trip to the Final Four.
OU will play Villanova Saturday at 5:30 p.m. for a shot at the national title game on Monday night in Houston.
“We beat a very good Oregon club,” Kruger said. “(I’ve) said many times Coach Altman, Coach Self – I think are the two guys that are coaches of the year in the country and they’ve done such a fantastic job.
“So to beat an Oregon club today is very satisfying. Yet when your very, very, very good friend is on the other bench it takes a little bit from that because you know how he feels. But still proud for the guys. Look forward to the week of preparation ahead, and, again, couldn’t be happier.”
Hield poured in 8 three-point shots.
“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.”
The whole nation watched Hield score 37 points.
“Oh, it’s special, to be honest with you,” Hield said. “As a kid you dream of having games like this. 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 (17 points against Texas A&M), I just came in confident, and they gave me the confidence to be aggressive every night.”
Jordan Woodard contributed 13 points for the Sooners (29-7) as they raced to an 18-point lead in the first half.
OU is in the Final Four for the fifth time in school history, and coach Lon Kruger is back in the Final Four for the second time after a 22-year absence.
Hield’s performance in Anaheim drew comparison to Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, who was in the crowd Saturday.
“I’m not Kobe Bryant, and they should not compare me,” Hield said. “I’m far away from him. I just make shots. It’s kind of cool, but me and Kobe are in two different classes and I don’t need to be compared with him.”
Hield hit a long-range three-point shot just seconds before halftime.
“Yeah, that was my favorite shot because after that I looked at Kobe, and he saluted me afterwards, so that was the favorite one,” Hield said.
Elgin Cook scored 24 points for the Ducks (31-7), whose 11-game winning streak ended one game short of the second Final Four in school history.
Oregon beat six NCAA tournament-bound teams by double digits during its winning streak and won the Pac-12 championship. Hield had the highest-scoring point total against the Ducks all season.
Oregon knew Hield was hot and planned to try to contain him.
“We accomplished part of what we wanted to do,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “We got him to turn it over six times by pressuring him. We weren’t able to take advantage of those turnovers. But he just backed up and hit a few, that last one before the half, and the first one he hit. I mean, he hit three or four that I thought we guarded pretty good and he just hit them.”
OU’s rebounding success was a big factor.
“They just killed us on the boards (23-10 in the first half),” Altman said. “They were much quicker to the ball, much more active. I’m not sure if it was the energy they produced hitting threes, but they just did a much better job on the boards. … Those second-chance points (15) put us in a hole we could just never recover from.”
Kruger understands what a trip to the Final Four means.
“It’s hard to get there,” Kruger said. “So to get there a second time, we’re very pleased. It’s a result of these guys, of course.
“Technology is just so different now than it was in ’94. I mean, how grand the event has become even from ’94. We go every year as a coach, and now couldn’t be more pleased to be taking the team.
“But it’s changed a lot. It’s changed a lot. I made a comment to Joe Castiglione, our AD, that these guys have no idea what lies ahead. And I probably said, and I probably don’t either because things have changed so much from the standpoint of just how grand it is and all the demands.
“I want our guys to enjoy it and yet focus on preparing for the next game. There is a fine line there that we’ll try to walk.”
“Definitely we wouldn’t have gotten to the Final Four without Coach Kruger,” said Khadeem Lattin, a Houston native. “He’s a great coach, so I don’t know if we got him to the Final Four or if he got us to the Final Four, but we’re going. Hands down to Coach, and it’s just an awesome experience to have, especially because it’s in Houston.”
Oklahoma has never won a national title in basketball. Here is the OU tournament record for the past 10 years:
- 2015: 3 seed; lost in the Sweet 16 (vs. Michigan State 62-58)
- 2014: 5 seed; lost in the round of 64 (vs. North Dakota State 80-75)
- 2013: 10 seed; lost in the round of 64 (vs. San Diego State 70-55)
- 2012: Did not qualify
- 2011: Did not qualify
- 2010: Did not qualify
- 2009: 2 seed; lost in the Elite Eight (vs. North Carolina 72-60)
- 2008: 6 seed; lost in the round of 32 (vs. Louisville 78-48)
- 2007: Did not qualify
- 2006: 6 seed; lost in the round of 64 (vs. Wisconsin Milwaukee 82-74)