Trae Young and Oklahoma Show Steps In The Right Direction With PK80 Invitational Performance
Night one did not go how many Oklahoma fans expected. The Sooners were supposed to beat Arkansas and move on to play the defending National Champion North Carolina Tar Heels. That was supposed to be Lon Kruger and company’s first real test in the 2017-2018 season.
Well, Oklahoma lost to Arkansas 92-83.
When you dive deeper into the game, Oklahoma battled in a game they shouldn’t have won. Arkansas returned a plethora of experience from a team that pushed future champion North Carolina to the final buzzer in last year’s NCAA Tournament. The Razorbacks started four seniors to Oklahoma’s one. Despite the behind-the-scenes offseason hype Oklahoma received, Arkansas was the better team on paper. That is fact.
Even with experience going against them, the Sooners were one or two possessions away from winning the game. Arkansas’ lead never got above two possessions until :23 were left. Oklahoma had the chance to tie or take the lead when down 79-77 with just under 3:00 left in the game. When you dive further, Arkansas shot 13 more free throws than Oklahoma. They also made 50% (9/18) of their threes to Oklahoma’s 27.6% (8/29). Did Arkansas play that much better? No. They simply took and made better shots and got to the free throw line more than Oklahoma did.
In day two, Oklahoma faced an inferior opponent in Portland. The Pilots had lost to North Carolina the day before 102-78, and eventually went 0-3 in the tournament.
The game did not start as smooth as even the Arkansas game did. The Sooners’ lead did not grow to double-digits until the 4:21 mark. To end the half, Trae Young scored or assisted on 15 of the last 23 points in the final 7:03 to push the lead to 46-31.
The second half started out as good as Lon Kruger could’ve imagined as Oklahoma saw their lead grow to 20 with a 60-40 advantage. From there, Portland began to chip away at the lead. The Pilots hit five threes in the next seven minutes during a 22-7 run that brought their deficit to five.
Oklahoma responded with a 26-9 run to end the game and won 93-71. Trae Young scored 28 against Arkansas, but out-did himself in game two with a 33-point performance on 11/18 shooting while adding eight assists. The game started to head towards another 2016-2017 ending when the lead got down to five, but Young and his teammates answered the call to avoid a bad loss.
Oklahoma had the day off on Saturday before playing Oregon in the fifth place game of the Victory Bracket. What started out as a benchmark for a young, inexperienced team finished with the dawning of the next Sooners’ star.
Oregon and Oklahoma met earlier in the month in a closed scrimmage out in Las Vegas. The two programs have become familiar with each other over the last three years with a matchup in the NCAA Tournament during Buddy Hield’s senior year, a closed scrimmage last season, a closed scrimmage this season, and another matchup in the PK80 on Sunday.
The Ducks presented a unique matchup as sophomore point guard, Payton Pritchard, was once committed to Lon Kruger before flipping that commitment to Oregon to stay home. Pritchard started on Dana Altman’s 2016-2017 team that made the Final Four before losing a heartbreaker to the eventual National Champions in North Carolina. Pritchard had the hand up on freshman Trae Young with a year of experience and was expected to be a tough matchup on both ends of the floor.
Oregon jumped out to an early 14-6 lead behind 6/7 shooting in the first 3:30 of the game. Unlike in the game against Arkansas, Oklahoma got over the hump early when they went on a 18-3 run in response to the Ducks’ quick start. The Sooners didn’t look back and maintained the lead heading into halftime with a 48-40 score.
Arkansas stormed back in the second half, eventually taking a 62-61 lead with 10:21 to go in the game…and then Trae Young happened. The freshman phenom scored 23 of Oklahoma’s 29 points to finish the game–including Steph Curry-esque three pointers and a ridiculous 12/12 from the free throw line. Young scored 43 total points against Oregon on Sunday, becoming the second Oklahoma freshman to score over 40 points (only Wayman Tisdale has scored more as a freshman at the University of Oklahoma). The win pushed Oklahoma to 4-1, and distanced themselves further from the 11-20 season they had a year ago.
The start to Trae Young’s freshman season can’t be understated. He is currently playing with the kind of confidence Buddy Hield played at as a senior. With the Sooners having more than ten of their 20 losses in games that they had second half leads a year ago, they needed someone to lean on when the game started to not go their way. Lon Kruger told FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein just that this summer.
Is Young that piece that is going to push them over-the-top and back into the NCAA Tournament? Time will tell, but he is off to an incredibly fast start in his Oklahoma career.
Checkout and see what the nation said about Trae Young’s 43-point performance here. Sooners will be back in action on Thursday against North Texas at 7:00 at the Lloyd Noble Center.