The Big 12 not only has the No. 1 team (Oklahoma) in the nation but it is better than the Southeastern Conference.
A lot better.
On Saturday, the Big 12 won seven of 10 games from SEC teams in the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge. OU led the charge with a 77-75 triumph at LSU and player-of-the year candidate Ben Simmons. And Oklahoma State joined the domination with a 74-63 convincing win at Auburn Saturday.
Florida managed an upset of West Virginia in Gainesville and Texas A&M held off Iowa State in College Station. Arkansas beat Texas Tech in Fayetteville.
But the Big 12 won all its home games (Texas over Vanderbilt, Kansas State over Mississippi, TCU over Tennessee, Kansas over Kentucky and Baylor over Georgia). And OU and OSU both won on the road.
OU All-American Buddy Hield came out on top in his battle with LSU’s Simmons. Hield poured in 32 points, with seven of his eight 3-pointers coming in the second half as the Sooners rallied to win.
Hield now ranks first nationally with his 4.35 3-pointers per game. He has made at least five 3-pointers in a game nine times this year. Seven of his 3-pointers tonight came in the second half. Hield has shot at least 50 percent from 3-point range in each of the last eight games (48 for 87; .552) and in 13 of the last 14 outings.
The OU defense held Simmons, a freshman, to 14 points and nine rebounds.
“He did a good job of making plays and getting the ball to the other guys, setting screens, spacing the floor,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said of Simmons. “They did a good job of trying to make sure that they got in the gaps, defensively, not allowing (us) to try to drive the ball. We wanted to run some high-low action to him inside there. They did a good job of trying to prevent us from getting it down in there on the post.”
OU’s Khadeem Lattin blocked a last-second shot to preserve the win after Isaiah hit the go-ahead shot with seconds left.
“I thought LSU played great,” said OU coach Lon Kruger. “They took us out of a lot of things in the first half that we’ve typically been able to do. Johnny (Jones) does a terrific job, so no surprise there. I am proud of our guys. We were down and a lot of things weren’t going very smoothly. The guys just kept talking about turning up defensively. I thought they did that. Isaiah (Cousins) set the tone out there in front. I thought defensively, Khadeem (Lattin) did a good job and picked up everyone’s intensity. We hung in there. I thought guys on both teams made big plays down the stretch and big shots down the stretch. We were just fortunate to get the last shot.”
“I feel like Isaiah (Cousins) was the one who turned the second half around,” Hield said. “He made a lot of defensive plays to get after (Tim) Quarterman. He set the tone and everybody just fed off his energy. That was good for us, we needed that.”
Oklahoma is 18-2 and atop the Big 12 at 6-2.
Earlier last week, OU raced past Texas Tech 91-67 in Norman.
“Well, I was very impressed with Oklahoma,” Tech coach Tubby Smith said. “They are certainly deserving of their No. 1 ranking. Lon Kruger has his team playing extremely well. They’re shooting the ball well and playing with a lot of confidence. But I was also proud of how our guys competed. We ran into a team that just shot the lights out and we just couldn’t keep up. We knew going in that we’d have to play a flawless game to have a chance to compete and we didn’t.”
Kruger improved to 7-2 against Texas Tech as OU’s head coach.
Oklahoma went 12 for 23 (.522) from 3-point range. OU entered the game ranked first nationally with its .464 season 3-point percentage and is now shooting .467 on the year. Only twice in the last 20 years has OU shot higher than .467 from the field for an entire season. The single-season school record for 3-point field goal percentage is .414 (1986-87).