KANSAS CITY – West Virginia pulled and tugged. The Mountaineers grabbed and yanked. They went body-to-body with Oklahoma All-American guard Buddy Hield and chased him relentlessly around every screen.
They bothered him. West Virginia did something that no other team has done. It shut down one of the nation’s elite players.
Hield was free for just seconds before another wave of merciless defense came at him again. West Virginia doubled and trapped Hield every time he touched the ball. Daxter Miles pressed his chest into Hield and extended his arms to hold the prolific scorer in place. Hield raised his arms and looked around, almost asking the officials to call a foul or asking a higher power for an answer to the defense.
He’d never seen it before.
“It surprised me for sure,” said Hield, who didn’t hit a field goal in the first half and didn’t score until almost 19 minutes into the game. “I’ve never had a team play me like that in my whole life, limit me to no catches. It was difficult trying to get the ball. When I got the ball, there were a lot of bodies at me. It was hard to make a play.”
Hield was held to single digits for the first time all season, and his six points was his lowest total since Nov. 27, 2014. He hit just one field goal all game, not counting his buzzer-beater that came shortly after the buzzer. Only once before as a starter had he ever hit just one field goal.
It took 19 minutes before Hield score his first points, a pair of free throws that came after separate stretches of more than six and eight minutes in the first half when Hield went without an attempted shot. Hield’s only made field goal came with 9:46 to go, and he didn’t attempt a shot in the final 7:30.
Hield’s eight attempts were the fewest since he took just seven in a 2014 blowout win against Weber State. He had never attempted so few shots in Big 12 Conference play over the last three years.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Hield said. “But how they press and trap, it kind of worked in their favor. Coach would run ball screens for me, but they would trap and get it out of my hands quick. There’s a lot of stuff going on.”
Even with West Virginia shutting down the Big 12 Player of the Year, there were no holes in its pressure defense to allow other Sooners to flourish. Oklahoma didn’t move for the ball, and point guard Isaiah Cousins did almost as much retreating in the face of the trap as he did attacking the open lanes.
Oklahoma (25-7) turned the ball over 21 times, the most of any of its three match-ups against West Virginia.
“West Virginia is going to be up into you, you know that,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “You just have to work a little harder away from the ball. As a group, we have to work harder to get (Buddy) open, and he has to work a little harder to get open.”
“It is a combination of doing things with a little more conviction and staying after it.”
On Saturday night, the Mountaineers’ defense frustrated and confused the nation’s second-leading scorer. The defensive game plan fit in perfectly as a cohesive unit to stop the Sooners’ collective offense.
Oklahoma will be off for nearly a week before the start of the NCAA Tournament, where teams likely won’t be able to replicate the Mountaineers’ defense on such a short turnaround.
Hield is hoping nobody even tries.
“Hopefully, nobody guards me like West Virginia, because it’s annoying as ever,” Hield said