OKLAHOMA CITY – All season long Oklahoma has been called a jump shooting team. The Sooners were only going to go as far in the NCAA tournament as their ability to knock down the 3-pointer.
It has been seen as a criticism to most, but on Friday, it’s why the Sooners were able to prevail in an 82-68 victory against Cal State-Bakersfield in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Chesapeake Arena.
Bakersfield, the No. 15 seed in the West region, overcame a 12-point deficit to take a 46-45 lead with 14:27 left in the second half.
OU, seeded No. 2 and essentially playing in its backyard, didn’t panic. In order to get out of the funk, the Sooners did what they’ve done all season. They shot themselves back into the game. A three by Isaiah Cousins was followed by a trey from Buddy Hield and one from Dante Buford and another from Cousins.
With 11:25 left, it was OU 58-48. And though the Roadrunners never packed it in and went away, OU was always able to have the answer and never let the lead slip under four points.
“This team feeds off the three,” Cousins said. “They feed off making shots. Any shot that was going was a motivation for us. It got us going.”
The Sooners were the premier team in the country in shooting the long ball the first couple of months in the season before tired legs and short shots had become more of the norm down the stretch.
The first half was reminiscent of the latter stages of the season with the Sooners only making 33 percent at a 3-for-9 clip.
The second half? That is what the OU fans saw in the first two months of the season and why OU was once ranked No. 1 in the country.
When it needed it most, the Sooners delivered from long distance. OU connected on 8 of 11 attempts in the second half to thwart the upset bid from Bakersfield, who was making its first appearance in the tournament.
“Yeah, we've been playing in close games all year, in the Big 12 and even non-conference. So I feel like we have a little more experience,” Hield said. “So guys just stepped up and made right shots at the right moments. We needed everybody to make plays for us, and everybody stepped up.”
Everybody played a hand in it, but when the Sooners needed a dagger, it was the guards who delivered. Hield, Cousins and Jordan Woodard each made three 3-pointers and all three shot at least 50 percent on their 3-point field goal attempts.
Hield finished with a game-high 27 points, followed by Cousins with 16 and Woodard with 15 to set up a Sunday showdown with 10th-seeded VCU in the round of 32.