OU has changes to make before NCAA Tournament

Sooners need more inside presence, slump-less Buddy Hield

Looking for leftover chances in Oklahoma’s two-point loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals wasn’t hard.

One glance over the stat sheet and it’s easy to see where the Sooners could have come up with just one more basket – one score that would have taken all the pressure off forward Ryan Spangler’s late miss.

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield talked after the game about finding a way to pick up Spangler, who spent the moments after the loss covered in a towel, hiding his face and his tears from his somber teammates.

Hield, who has won his fair share of games at Oklahoma during his three years with the Sooners, won’t have to look very far to find an answer.

In the eight of the last 10 games, Hield has missed at least nine shots. Including Friday night, Hield has missed 14 shots in two of the past three games. The Big 12 Conference’s top 3-point shooter in terms of makes hit just two Friday night.

He attempted 13. The fix is simple he said.

“It’s easy, just sleep in the gym,” Hield said. “That’s all I’ve got to do is sleep in the gym.”

Against TCU on the last day of February, Hield went 6-for-11. It was by far his best performance of Oklahoma’s recent schedule.

He missed 14 shots Friday night, matching a career-high that he set in the regular-season finale against Kansas. In that game, his last-second tip-in saved him from criticism.

This time around, there wasn’t a big-time win to hide behind.

“We go to go into the NCAA Tournament, and we got to make a big run and stick together no matter what,” Hield said. “Win, lose or draw, we got to stick together as a group.”

The best shooters in the nation can go through shooting slumps, but Hield, who is averaging 17 points during the stretch, has to be more reliable when the NCAA Tournament begins in less than a week.

During the last 10 games, Hield is 53-for-154 (34.4 percent). He has to be more than just a volume scorer for Oklahoma.

MOTIVATING LOSS: It was difficult, especially with the eerie silence in Oklahoma’s locker room after the loss to Iowa State, but Hield acknowledged that the Sooners’ season isn’t over just yet: Maybe an obvious statement to most, but it was a bright light in an otherwise somber dressing room.

“We have a new season. We get to start fresh,” he said. “Wherever we get seeded is good for us. We have to keep grinding. Whatever team we get, I’m feeling sorry for them.”

What Oklahoma is looking for now is something it hasn’t found since Blake Griffin was slamming down highlight-reel dunks while wearing the Crimson and Cream.

The Sooners picked up their first tournament win under coach Lon Kruger but are looking for the program’s first NCAA Tournament victory since 2009.

They are hoping that the hurt of Friday’s loss can be motivating.

“All of a sudden, you know, the next time you lose, it’s over,” said Kruger, who will become the first coach in NCAA history to lead five teams to an NCAA Tournament win if the Sooners advance to the second round. “This group has responded great all year, too. After winning after losing, they have bounced back and practice well.”

Kruger called Spangler the heart and soul of the team after the loss to Iowa State. TaShawn Thomas said the Sooners wouldn’t be where they are without the Oklahoma-native.

They need him to bounce back the most. Chances are that Spangler will be just fine.

“He’s going to bounce back in the tournament,” Oklahoma point guard Jordan Woodard said. “Our head, his head is still going to be held high. He’s a soldier. That’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s going to come back. He’s going to redeem himself next week in the tournament.”

GOTTA GO INSIDE: The Sooners’ biggest weakness hasn’t changed from the start of the season, and it’s rooted in a conscious choice.

Oklahoma loves the 3-pointer, but the long-distance arc doesn’t always like the Sooners.

There were 21 missed 3-pointers Friday night, and the few makes weren’t the reason Oklahoma got back into the game.

After Spangler and Thomas combined for six points on four shots in the first half, the frontcourt duo scored 14 points on seven shots in the second half.

“Coach said something to me in the second half, and it made me just change my mind to saying attack,” Thomas said. “I felt like that’s what kept us in the game.”

The Sooners’ front court isn’t perfect, but it’s what Oklahoma needs to use to be successful.

UP NEXT: Oklahoma awaits its fate. The Sooners are headed to the NCAA tournament but the question of as which seed and where are still yet to be answered. That will be revealed around 5 p.m. Sunday afternoon. The most likely destinations for Oklahoma seems to be Jacksonville, Columbus or Louisville. Omaha is likely out of the question at this point. Really though, it’s anybody’s guess.

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