Just a few days after the list of finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, which is given to the nation’s top point guard, was released, Oklahoma Sooners’ point guard Isaiah Cousins sits on the sideline and laughs as his teammates run through practice drills.
Cousins didn’t make the cut.
He just seems looser as he jokingly scoffs at the notion that he should be doing anything differently because there are ESPN cameras running the sideline of the Sooners’ practice gym on that particular day. Less than a month earlier, Cousins went through a shooting slump – like every other basketball player since the inception of the game.
Cousins has never really wanted the spotlight. His soft-spoken nature almost comfortably takes a back seat to his outspoken roommate and All-American Buddy Hield.
The way Cousins has played since his slump – a five-game stretch for the top-ranked Sooners – has made it seem like the starting point guard on the No. 1 team in the country deserves the spotlight and might have been the biggest snub on a list of the nation’s elite floor generals.
“He’s challenged himself. He’s a player. He’s from New York. He’s tough,” Hield said. “I like guys like Isaiah. They challenge themselves to be good. And he’s playing the best basketball on our team the past four or five games.”
Over the past five games, Cousins is averaging 17.8 points, six assists and 5.6 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 72.2 percent from behind the 3-point arc and 61.4 percent from the field. There isn’t a player in the country that is even averaging 15-5-5 while also shooting better than 55 percent from the behind the arc this season.
His five-game outburst has him in the top half among the Bob Cousy Award finalists in points, assists, rebounds, field goal shooting and 3-point shooting and in the top four in every category except assists.
“He’s getting back to like he was at the beginning of the year,” Oklahoma assistant coach Lew Hill said. “He’s just taking what the defense gives him, running plays for his teammates and making the game a lot easier for people.”
As a result, Oklahoma is looking for a five-game win streak Saturday against Kansas State, where it hasn’t won in four years. The Sooners (19-2, 7-2) have won three-straight in the toughest conference in the country.
Cousins’ shooting slump is well in the past, something that Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger said might have bled over into other parts of his game. It’s something that Hill, who recruited Cousins out of the New York City suburb of Mt. Vernon, believes was caused by Cousins trying to do too much and forcing the issues when it wasn’t quite there.
“It didn’t last all that long since now we’re here,” Kruger said.
Over the course of the season, Cousins is averaging 13.3 points, 4.8 assists and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 46.4 percent from behind the arc and 43.6 percent from the field. They aren’t quite numbers that jump off the page, and he ranks near the bottom of every single category, except for shooting percentages, when compared to the other Bob Cousy Award finalists.
But Cousins’ isn’t scoring in just one category.
Cousins is the only player in the country filling up the stat sheet with that sort of consistency. There are only nine other players in the country averaging at least Cousins’ numbers this season – and none shoot as well from behind the arc as the Sooners’ point guard.
Of those 10 total players, Cousins is the only point guard averaging less than two turnovers per game. Providence’s Kris Dunn, Oregon State’s Gary Payton II and BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth: All are Bob Cousy finalists, all are on the list of 10 and all three turn the ball over more frequently than Cousins.
“I feel like he’s being a player now,” Hield said. “It’s his last year, and he knows he’s got to produce. . . . He’s challenged himself much more to go out and play better each game. He’s being more relaxed and calm and watching a lot of film, and he’s working on his game and his shot-making ability.”