In a game filled with spurts, No. 2 seeded Oklahoma defended its home turf and pulled away late to be No. 15 seeded Cal-State Bakersfield 82-68 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament Friday in Oklahoma City.
“A very, very hard fought game,” OU coach Lon Kruger after the win. “I thought Bakersfield, for 35 minutes, if they didn’t outplay us, they certainly played even. Coach (Rod) Barnes always does a great job. His teams are always very well prepared. They do a terrific job defensively, and today was no surprise.
“It’s a good first round win. I told our guys afterwards, I said, hey, they caused us to play less than what we’d like to. But Bakersfield did that. Appreciate winning. Appreciate winning and playing again, because it’s not easy to do that, and proud of the guys for doing that.”
OU had three players score in double figures: Buddy Hield (27), Isaiah Cousins (16) and Jordan Woodard (15).
The game featured five ties and five lead changes. CSUB led by as many as eight in the first half. OU’s largest lead was 15 late in the second. OU’s defense forced 14 Roadrunner turnovers, which led to 20 points on the other end for the Sooners.
“We have to give OU credit,” said Barnes. “They are a really good team. They are really talented. Buddy is the real deal. I told him that, if I had a vote today, I don’t know whether it’s ESPN, SI, whatever it is, he’s my ‘Player of the Year’ because I think he’s been the most consistent player in the country this year.”
Second-seeded Oklahoma (26-7) improved to 38-29 all-time in the NCAA Tournament in 30 total appearances. Kruger, making his 17th NCAA Tournament appearance as a head coach, improved to 17-16 all-time in the tourney and 10-7 in opening rounds.
Oklahoma shot exactly 50 percent (28-56) from the field, including 55 percent (11-20) from three-point range. The 11 treys marked the Sooners’ 22nd game this season with 10-or-more made triples (a school record).
OU was a heavy favorite in the game with a sold-out crowd but the Roadrunners kept it close for most of the game.
“With the three guards, we just wanted to move the ball and make plays for each other and find the open man because they were trapping a lot,” said OU’s Isaiah Cousins.
“I think as a team we handled their pressure all night, and we just focused on getting stops and coming down to it. Just trying to make plays on the defensive end to lead on the offense.”
During the game when OU seemed vulnerable, it was announced that No. 2 seeded Michigan State had been upset by No. 15 Middle Tennessee State.
“Somebody told me that after the game that Michigan State lost,” said Hield. “I know a couple guys at Michigan State. But we can’t worry about that. We can only worry about what we can control. It’s tough that they lost, but we’re on a mission. We can’t worry about any other team.”
Kruger appreciated playing in front of a partisan crowd in Oklahoma, just minutes from the OU campus in Norman.
“It was great,” Kruger said. “We loved driving down the road 20 minutes and playing. That’s much better than getting on a plane and changing time zones, for sure. It’s great for our players, staff; it’s great for the fans. Guys have worked hard all year to maybe earn that opportunity to stay close to home, and they did that. I thought the crowd was great today.”
Hield was 8 of 14 shooting overall, including 3 of 6 from beyond the arc. He also hit 8 of 9 from the foul line. Hield also added five rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks in the game. It marked Hield’s 17th game this season scoring at least 25 points (most in college basketball) and his 24th outing with at least 20.
Cousins had 16 points in the game, his 26th double-figure scoring outing of the season (and 16th in the last 19 games). Cousins, who was a perfect 3 of 3 from beyond the 3-point arc, also added a team-high five assists.
Woodard tallied 15 points in the contest, his 23rd double-figure scoring game of the season. He went 5 of 8 overall, including 3 of 5 from downtown.