Sooners Illustrated will present three things to watch before every men’s basketball game during the 2015-16 season.
TV/Radio: ESPN/107.7 FM
Time: 8 p.m.
Series: Oklahoma, 80-63.
Hield vs. Niang – one last time
It might not be the final time that long-time friends and intense competitors Buddy Hield and Georges Niang face off, but it could be. Oklahoma and Iowa State are not guaranteed another game after Monday night.
Both players have intense respect from one another, having been semi-underrated recruits coming out of high school. Hield was an unknown commodity and a three-star recruit out of Kansas, while Niang was a four-star prospect who signed with Iowa State at one of the last possible moments.
They’ve become stars for their team and the ultimate example of a senior playing college basketball.
“He’s one of the toughest guys to guard in college basketball,” Hield said of Niang. “His mind is at an all-time high, how he competes and how he makes everyone around him better. He’s one of the worst matchups in college basketball. He just dominates everybody all around.”
The two have a mutual admiration for each other – one that both classified as love. They met during summer camps and were roommates at the Nike Camp. They talk regularly, about basketball, the Iowa State fandom and past contests between the two teams.
They both want to stop Kansas’ title streak.
“We both have something going good for us,” Hield said. “Whatever we do, sometimes you can’t stop it. I make a ton of tough shots. I just put in so much work. He uses his body real well. Sometimes you play great defense but you just can’t stop him. He has a good skills set. I respect him a lot.”
Finding a rest
Oklahoma has relied on its starters this season and rightfully so. The four-man veteran unit has made 84 combined starts for the Sooners and each averaged more than 30 minutes per game last season.
The average has replicated again this season with Hield and Ryan Spangler each averaging more than 33 minutes per game. Over the last five games, Hield has played in all but 11 of the total 215 possible minutes.
Spangler has played at least 34 minutes in each of the last six games. It’s a bit of a change from when Oklahoma came into the year thinking it would be able to rest its starters more.
“We went in thinking we’d be able to give them much more,” Lon Kruger said. “Games in the Big 12 are such that one spurt might be difficult to overcome. You give up six or nine quick ones, especially on the road, you have a tough enough time as it is.”
Going to Ames
Oklahoma hasn’t won in Ames, Iowa since 2011, and Kruger is 0-4 with the Sooners at Hilton Coliseum. But they’ve never made the trek north as the No. 1 team in the country, a ranking Oklahoma has only held three times in program history.
Only once did Oklahoma hold the ranking for more than a week during the regular season.
The Sooners, who led Iowa State by 18 last year away from the Lloyd Noble Center, didn’t have long to relish a last-second victory against West Virginia. Preparation for Iowa State and the two-game turnaround began almost immediately. Kruger said the coaching staff watched film on Iowa State late Saturday night after the win.
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“That’s part of the experience of life on the road in the Big 12,” Kruger said. “Guys have a lot of respect for Iowa State, so it’s not as much a revenge factor as it is understanding of how difficult it is to go into Ames and win.”