After scoring 17 points in a Sweet 16 win over Texas A&M on Thursday, Buddy Hield found out that his idol, Kobe Bryant, was in the arena. The Oklahoma star and Player of the Year candidate sought Bryant out and told him he would have scored more had he known the Mamba was in attendance.
Hield made good on that opportunity Saturday, going off for 37 points in an 80-68 win over Oregon in the Elite Eight.
“That’s one of the marks of such a great player – not only playing under the pressure of this NCAA tournament game, but wanting to play well in front of his idol,” Fox Sports West columnist Jill Painter Lopez said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “He wears No. 24 like Kobe and it’s just neat to see. He kept looking over at him during the game. It was a lot of fun.”
Hield shot 13-of-20 from the floor and drilled eight threes in leading Oklahoma to its first Final Four since 2002. Jordan Woodard scored 13, while Isaiah Cousins scored 11 points and had a game-high seven assists.
That trio, along with senior forward Ryan Spangler, has started in 104 straight games.
“If Buddy Hield wasn’t on that team, we’d be talking about all those guys,” Painter Lopez said. “They’ve got so much experience (and) consistency. These guys work hard, and they do not miss games. When have you heard that? That a group of guys have been together that long without injuries for 104 games? That’s three seasons’ worth.”
Spangler, who averages 10.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, has the most NCAA Tournament rebounds in Oklahoma history.
“He’s very good on the boards, and these other guards, they’re very good shooters – Cousins, especially,” Painter Lopez said. “He had a couple of really good games in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 as well. So you just have a bunch of guys that complement each other. Hield obviously is going to take his shots and he’s the main focus and they don’t seem to worry about that. They seem to be able to, like Steph Curry’s teammates do, kind of roll with that within the offense. When Hield got double-teamed (against Oregon), then he’d pass it out and the other guys would score.”
Oklahoma (29-7) plays Villanova (33-5) in the Final Four this Saturday at 6:09 p.m. ET. These two programs have not played in an NCAA championship since 1988 and 1985, respectively.