HOUSTON — Sure, Buddy Hield is a force of nature.
But his Oklahoma backcourt companions, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard, have made life all but impossible on opposing basketball teams all season long.
Hield is the national player of the year — or should be, anyway, as the Sooners steam into the Final Four and Saturday’s showdown rematch with Villanova — and is the primary focus of every defensive strategy opposing teams can devise.
But did you know that on 25 different occasions this season, Cousins and/or Woodard shot better than 50 percent from outside the 3-point line? How can Villanova or anyone defend that kind of lethal productivity?
“You can’t. I’d be nervous. I’d be nervous if I was (Villanova),” Woodard said. “… That’s why we had an advantage when we played them in Hawaii. It’s tough to guard. When we’re moving the ball, and just playing great offense, it’s really hard to beat.”
That was a 78-55 Sooner beatdown in Pearl Harbor, though it was four months ago.
OU made 14-of-26 from beyond the 3-point arc that day at tiny Bloch Arena. The Wildcats made just 4-of-32.
“Well, when you get all three of those guys going, we are hard to defend,” OU assistant Steve Henson said. “We have the ability to have great offensive possessions when we’re driving it and kicking it and spacing it. You know, people are gonna climb up into Buddy and people are gonna try to get in some gaps, but we’re just constantly trying to get out in transition and spread the floor and drive it and kick it and throw it inside every now and then and set a lot of ball screens.”
Hield ranks second in the nation at 25.4 points per game and leads all scorers with 916 points. He also ranks fourth in Division I in 3-point shooting, at 46.5 percent.
Woodard shoots 45.9 percent (that would rank him seventh nationally if he had enough attempts to make the statistical qualifications), and Cousins 42 percent (that would rank 36th if he shot more). Woodard averages 13.0 points per game, Cousins 12.8.
And here’s one more: forward Ryan Spangler shoots it at just 36.4 percent, but he’s had five games this season in which he, too, has shot it at better than 50 percent from beyond the stripe. Spangler averages 10.3 points per game.
“You can’t focus on stopping Buddy,” said Villanova guard Josh Hart. “You have to focus on stopping Oklahoma. If you say, ‘OK, I’m gonna hold Buddy to 10 points,’ then Cousins could have a huge game. Woodard could have a huge game. Spangler could have a huge game. Guys off the bench could have a huge game.”
Back on Dec. 7, Hield was just 6-of-17 from the field, but buried 4-of-9 from 3-point range, including some early daggers that set the tone. He finished with just 18 points.
“Yeah. That’s stopping,” Hart said. “That shows how talented he is.”
Cousins scored 19 that day, while Woodard had 10, Spangler 11 and Dinjiyl Walker came off the bench to score 11.
Villanova coach Jay Wright was asked if having faced Hield already establishes that he’s just a basketball player (OK, a really good one) rather than some mythological figure who has made the NCAA Tournament his own personal playground.
“I think that’s a great point,” Wright said. “Two things about that. … If you only followed Buddy Hield or Oklahoma, you’d just think this guy is Superman. The other thing you would think is that the other guys aren’t as good.
“We played him. He scored (18). We know how good he is, but we’ve been on the floor with him. But we also know how good all the other guys are because the other guys hurt us in that game. … Cousins was incredible, Woodard, (Khadeem) Lattin played well, Spangler. Our guys know. I think our guys have a different perspective on this Oklahoma team than maybe the national fan base that just watched Buddy put up big numbers.”