ANAHEIM, Calif. — Buddy Hield is not one of those insular players solely focused on his own team while ignoring outside influences and statements.
He sees everything, he hears everything and he watches everything. And when he heard that some Oregon players wanted to take a run at outplaying him in the West Regional final, that didn’t exactly intimidate him.
It motivated him to the point that he told teammate Jordan Woodard he was going to score 40 points against the top-seeded Ducks.
Well, he fell short of his goal of 40 in Oklahoma’s 80-68 victory Saturday. But not by much. And in the process, he proved one irrefutable, unmistakable fact of life when it comes to playing against college basketball’s brightest star.
Play with fire when it comes to the man known as Buddy Love, and you will get burned.
“I saw the comments Oregon said,” Hield said. “Certain guys were saying they were going to ‘go at Buddy Hield.’ So I was like, ‘OK, you want to go at me, I’m going to go right at you.’ You don’t play with fire.”
Hield dropped 37 points thanks to a ridiculous, magnificent 13-for-20 shooting performance that saw him knock down eight 3s against the Ducks. And to be perfectly honest, the outrageous numbers don’t even do the performance justice in leading the No. 2 Sooners to their first Final Four since 2002.
Hand in his face? As if that mattered. Shots from 30-plus feet away? Child’s play. Never once did it seem like the enormity of the moment mattered to Hield while he was on the floor. When the shots went up, it was rare for them to even touch the rim. He was a flame-throwing rainmaker from beyond the arc, and there was not going to be anything that could stop him.
That includes Oregon’s best perimeter defender, Elgin Cook. Cook played tough defense against Hield throughout the night, contesting his shots and denying him the ball in the spots Hield would prefer it. Genuinely, it is impossible to blame the athletic, 6-foot-6 Oregon senior for letting Hield get loose. Cook couldn’t help but laugh when he was asked what the difference was between playing against Hield in person and watching him on tape.
“It’s real,” Cook said with a chuckle. “I feel like I played pretty good defense on him, but he still shot above 50 percent from the 3-point line. I mean, he made eight 3s. So, maybe I should have been closer to him. Should have made him drive the ball.”
“He just did what he usually does,” Oregon guard Tyler Dorsey said. “It’s not a surprise to many people. He killed us tonight.”
This wasn’t a case of a player entering a phone booth and surprisingly exiting with a Superman cape.
The cape was there all along. Simply, this was Buddy being the Buddy we’ve seen all season.
“We had our best defender on him, and he was in his stuff the whole game,” Oregon forward Dillon Brooks said. “But a guy like Buddy, you know, he’s really hard to stop him, and it was his time.”
It was another vintage performance by Hield.
“Buddy’s a great scorer,” Oklahoma starting center Khadeem Lattin said. “That’s what he does. He’s a prolific scorer. He can give you buckets. Straight buckets.”
And it was hardly a surprise to Woodard.
“Luckily, this wasn’t the first game where he’s done that,” said Woodward, who scored 13 points. “We’re kind of used to it, so we just try to find him good spots where he can get good shots.”
Hield was so good throughout the game that his mother, Jackie, who notoriously paces on the concourse of whatever arena Buddy is playing in during her son’s games, even sat through most of the first half.
“This is the longest I’ve ever stayed (in my seat), I think,” Jackie said after the game. “They were leading and they were doing good. And God was telling me to just trust him.”
God had that one right, and really this game was just a similar performance to what we’ve seen in 2015-16
The rise of Buddy has been wholly sensational this season. From the night he scored 30 points on Memphis in the Sooners’ opener to Saturday night’s unbelievable performance, Hield has been the unique star in college basketball this season. And given where Hield and his family come from — a self-described ‘rough neighborhood’ in the Bahamas called Eight Mile Rock — that’s pretty remarkable.
It’s especially stunning when you remember that Hield had a chance last season to turn pro, but ultimately decided against it. Heck, his own teammates were a bit surprised that Hield decided to return.
“I was surprised,” Woodard said. “He had a chance to take care of his family and I know he’s really family-oriented. I thought he was ready, but he wanted to get to this point. So as a team, it just motivated us all that much more.”
Back in August, I asked Hield why he returned, and beyond wanting to improve his game Hield mentioned getting to where is now as a major reason to return.
“My goal is to come back and win the Big 12 tournament and win the Big 12 championship and win a national championship and try to go to the Final Four,” Hield said then.
He may have fallen short on the first two points, but that third one is the most important one yet this season, and it’s now been accomplished because of his stellar play.
Don’t expect there to be any sense that he’s finished accomplishing his goals, though.
“We’ve accomplished part of that goal,” Hield said. “But now it’s time to turn it up some more.”
Man, turn it up even more? After that game, what does he have left to even give?
“Why not?” Hield said with a laugh. “I missed a couple of layups, free throws, I can do a lot more.”
I don’t know if it’s possible for Buddy to do a lot more. Heck, the guy already did so much in this one. The best description Hield’s performance didn’t come from a coach or a teammate or even the opposition. It came from an Oklahoma fan, albeit a rather famous one.
“You look back at old successful Oklahoma teams, and say ‘that was Wayman (Tisdale)’s team, that was Hollis (Price)’s team,'” country music star and Sooners fan Toby Keith said. “This is definitely Buddy’s team, and now he’s taken us to the Final Four. He’s willed us to the Final Four.”
It may not be a new lyric for Keith, but that’s the phrase right there.
This is Buddy Hield’s team, and he’s willed the Sooners to the Final Four in Houston where they will face Villanova.
This is what he returned for. This is what he plays for. It’s what he lives for. And he’s not going to stop until he gives Oklahoma a chance to play for the national championship in Houston next week.
Maybe by then his opponents will learn that he doesn’t need extra motivation to do it.