Norman, Okla. He may have finished right around his season average on the stat sheet, but Saturday was a rough day for Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield.
Rough individually. Rough physically. And roughest of all in the outcome, a 76-72 victory by Kansas that put the Jayhawks one game up on the Sooners in the Big 12 race with six to play.
Hield, who torched Kansas (21-4 overall, 9-3 Big 12) for 46 points in a triple-overtime thriller in January in Allen Fieldhouse, scored just six points in the first half of Saturday’s loss, and KU built a lead of as many as 14 points while the OU star and strong favorite to win national player of the year honors stumbled out of the gate.
Asked to explain his slow start, Hield pointed to a different style of defense played by the Jayhawks.
View a gallery of images from the Jayhawks' game against the Sooners, Saturday at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman.
“Yes, ma’am,” Hield said. “I was trying to feel out and see what they were doing. They guarded me really well. They threw a lot of bodies at me. I had some good shots I should’ve made in the first half.”
Instead, Hield connected on just 5-of-15 attempts all game and did not record a single two-point basket. All 24 of his points came on free throws and three-pointers, with six free throws representing his total output in the first half. Hield finished the first half 0-of-6 from the floor, with a series of off-balance and rushed shots seemingly the result of KU’s aggressive, in-your-face type of defense.
“That’s what people are doing now,” OU coach Lon Kruger said after the game. “They’re gonna stay into Buddy and not leave him.”
As all great players do, Hield found a way to get going in the second half and his 5-of-8 performance from three-point range in the final 20 minutes nearly led OU (20-4, 8-4) to victory. But a charge, which Hield said he thought was going to be a foul called in his favor, a missed free throw in the final minute and a few crucial plays by Kansas kept things from going OU’s way.
While Hield was doing his best to catch up to his own standard for scoring, KU sophomore Devonté Graham was making the most of his opportunity to go toe-to-toe with a player who will be remembered for a long time around the Big 12 Conference.
In 39 minutes, Graham actually out-scored Hield, 27-24, leaving Kruger and company with nothing but praise for the KU guard, who scored 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting, in 46 minutes during the first meeting between these two.
“He played great,” Kruger said of Graham. “Any time someone gets 27, you probably (don’t) bank on that, but he was great. He made big plays for them when they needed ’em, especially when we had a little bit of a lead and couldn’t get a stop. He’s a good player, a talented guy and he stepped up there and made key buckets for them.”
— See what people were saying about the KU-OU rematch during KUsports.com’s live coverage