The Number One ranked Oklahoma Sooners travelled to Baton Rouge for the Big 12-SEC Challenge to take on the upstart and insanely talented LSU Tigers. Ricky O'Donnell had a nice write up after the game, which you can read here. At this point, if you've turned on a television in the last three or four months you've heard about how great Ben Simmons is, and he is great. But this isn't about the otherworldly talent of Simmons. This is about Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, and the experienced and tough Oklahoma Sooners, and how they withstood the Tiger's best shot and walked away with a win.
The talent on LSU's roster is certainly good enough be a very scary team if they show up in your bracket on Selection Sunday. With future 1st overall pick Ben Simmons plus Craig Victor, Tim Quarterman, Keith Hornsby and Antonio Blakeney, the Tigers are the kind of team that could turn an 10 seed into a Final Four appearance. Yet the difference between the Tigers and the Sooners showed up last Saturday when the Sooners made their stand in the final 10 minutes.
Setting the table
After this ridiculous Simmons reverse dunk, LSU led by 12 points, and would extend the lead to 14 with a Hornsby jumper with about 16 minutes to play. Now with Lon Kruger's experience in the NBA, the Sooners like to run a lot of pro sets to get their offensive weapons into position to score. It's a lot of ball screen & roll with shooters in the corners that is remarkably tough to defend when you get the spacing right. Having a long athletic point guard in Cousins helps with these sets as he's able to create space on his own as you can see from this set below:
Cousins refuses the ball screen forcing Quarterman to open his stance enough to give room to Hield to receive the pass. Hield knows that Quarterman is going to respect the drive because his previous two baskets were going towards the rim, so the quick jab opens enough room for Hield to get off a comfortable three.
Hield hit another three-pointer with LSU scrambling off an offensive rebound and LSU's inexperience on defense moved too slowly to locate the one guy on the floor they needed to locate. On the tap out by Ryan Spangler, three Tigers players immediately followed the ball which opened the entry pass from Jordan Woodard into Spangler who kicks it out to a wide open Hield on the wing for an easy three. Here's a look at where everybody was on the floor as soon as Woodard fielded the tap out from Spangler:
Young and inexperienced teams often don't communicate like they need to, and this was a communication breakdown that was completely exploited by the Sooners. Still, the Tigers were mostly in control from that point until about 10 minutes to go in the game. They were up by 10 points after a Simmons tip in with 10:01 to play. But this set up for the mature, experienced team to overwhelm the Tigers and steal the victory on the road.
Down the stretch
The score was 61-51 when Ben Simmons made his last bucket of the game. Oklahoma inbounded the ball to Hield who brought the ball up and got a quick ball screen from Spangler that caused a mismatch, Simmons switched out on Hield, and since Simmons was worried about penetration from the smaller quicker Hield, he gave Hield the space needed to bury a corner three. Hield doesn't need much space to get his shot off, and as you can see by him shooting over the top of a 6'10 forward, who had him arms at his side.
This play set up a great play call from OU to get a little action going for your best player, and Hield makes a great play that leads to an open three point make for Spangler. Lets look deeper into this play:
This play is set up to run Hield off a stagger screen, depending on the defense, he'll either curl around towards the opposite wing, fade to the ball side wing, or even fade back to the weak side wing. Most of the time, with a shooter like Hield, defense will try to stick in his hip pocket and trail the screens forcing Hield to curl around them, which he does in this case. Here's the setup.
Hield is on the block, Cousins has the ball, Spangler and Dante Buford set up for the screens while Dinjiyl Walker sets up in the corner. Then the curl happens:
When Hield receives the ball he's got Blakeney trailing him, the help side defense adjusts by cutting off any drive opportunities, once Quarterman opens up to stop the ball, Walker back cuts opening up the corner, while Spangler wraps around to trail the Hield cut, which leaves him wide open for three:
And in video form:OU Pro Set Video
This is also an example of how valuable Spangler is to this Sooner team. His ability to knock down three pointers has been vital when there is so much focus on Hield and Cousins, not to mention his ability to track down rebounds. After the shot, LSU calls a timeout to settle down. They come down and get a big jumper from Hornsby, but Kruger and company were ready with yet another fantastic stagger screen set play to get Hield a three point look. Honestly, the crossing action on a wing entry set is just a thing of beauty:
Watch Hield throughout this play. He walks Antonio Blakeney to sleep under the basket, and plants underneath the basket, touching the baseline and exploding past the two screens. Honestly, pretty poor defense by the two post players on LSU, especially Craig Victor who sort of waves his arm at the best shooter in the college game. And that was a huge shot because it brought it to a one possession game, with the Sooners only down three. But watch again and you see the dribble handoff, Woodard crossing across to drag another defender away, and Spangler and Buford with two solid screens. Great execution.
After an LSU bucket, and a few empty possessions, Oklahoma gets a bit of a run out, and somehow Hield finds himself all alone on the wing and only Keith Hornsby about 30 feet away to defend him. I got some cool image enhancement software to zoom in on Hornsby's face to see his reaction to Hield being this wide open:
Ok, so that was definitely Frodo from Lord of the Rings, but you get the idea. Leaving Buddy Hield open at any point of the game is a bad idea, but you have the lead, you're up by five, you cannot leave that dude this open, and there he is - getting buckets.
Now Oklahoma is down by just two points. Not good if you're LSU, but have a good possession, get a good shot and... oh no, you can't turn the ball over. A Hornsby turnover with 4:12 on the clock turns into an Oklahoma lead with 4:04 left because Hield sprints to get into position and Cousins hits the ball ahead to find Hield open, again.
I think he likes that spot on the floor.
Splash, and just like that your 61-51 lead is now a 66-65 deficit. Buddy Hield saw your 10 point lead at home, maybe chuckled to himself a bit, then buries four three-pointers in six minutes, and two in the last minute of those six. That is player of the year kind of stuff, and why he's the favorite for the award.
Hield went on to hit another three-pointer that put the Sooners ahead 73-72 with a minute and 50 seconds to play to finish with 32 points and seven rebounds. He then played the role of decoy in the final moments as Isaiah Cousins sank two clutch jumpers in the final minute and ten seconds, and Khadeem Lattin slammed the door shut with a big block to deny Tim Quarterman's last shot at the buzzer.
LSU had the #1 ranked Sooners beat, but the experience and poise of Cousins, Spangler and Hield, coupled with the cool play calling from Lon Kruger, proved to be too much in the end.