OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma went to a rare full-court trap look in the first half, and Cal State-Bakersfield tried to beat it with a long half-court toss. The Roadrunners didn’t expect 7-foot Akolda Manyang to be lurking.
Leaping into the air, Manyang keyed the Oklahoma counter attack, and while playing nearly a career-high 14 minutes, Manyang had more impact on the outcome than he had at any other point in the season. During a quick stretch in the first half, Manyang had a block, two offensive rebounds and pulled down a defensive rebound in a crowd of three Roadrunners.
In an off night for senior forward Ryan Spangler, the Oklahoma bench – more specifically the reserve frontcourt – made a difference.
“I feel like we just need someone to be aggressive and just protect the rim,” said Manyang, who had been relegated to the bench for multiple games. “I just told coach that I feel like I’m the one – or I can at least help. He’s trying to put more trust in to me.”
Manyang didn’t show up much on the stat sheet but was key in wearing down Cal State-Bakersfield center Aly Ahmed and providing a mismatch that the Roadrunners couldn’t counter.
Ahmed is the only Roadrunner taller than 6-foot-4.
Freshman Dante Buford took advantage of the other hole in the Roadrunners’ defense, isolating on a smaller forward or taking Ahmed out to the perimeter. He said his confidence is higher than ever after scoring nine points and dishing out four assists Friday night.
Buford directly contributed to 17 points for the Sooners, his highest mark of the season, and was key in breaking the Cal-State-Bakersfield press.
“That’s just how it played out,” Buford said. “I think I’m pretty good at breaking traps. That’s where I can excel. I had the ball in my hands a couple touches.”
Figuring out Ahmed
Ahmed had hit just one 3-pointer all season before Friday night. But he stepped into a jumper from the top of the key as time wound down in the first half and hit his second of the year.
That’s just how the first half went from Ahmed, who had 16 points and four rebounds through the first 20 minutes. In the second half, Ahmed went scoreless, attempted just four shots and had three turnovers.
Buddy’s Heisman moment
He went right down and hit a step-back 3 pointer with a hand in his face: A five-point swing in a matter of 23 seconds. Hield had two more defensive rebounds in the next minute to help Oklahoma close out the 14-point win.
Hield’s Player of the Year moment was created.
“Buddy is the real deal,” Cal State-Bakersfield coach Rod Barnes said. “. . . He’s my Player of the year, because I think he’s been the most consistent player in the country this year.”
Hield finished with 27 points for his nation-leading 17th 25-point game of the season.
“That block was really my fault anyhow, because I got back-doored, and I had to make up for it,” Hield said laughing. “So I was able to make a shot. Coming down, coach said put it on my back, and I was able to step back a little bit, and it was a good shot.”
Free throw woes
Oklahoma came into the NCAA Tournament shooting 73 percent from the free-throw line as a team. With just under four minutes to go in the first half, Hield and Buford combined for four straight free throws. They went 2-for-4.
The Sooners missed eight of their first 12 free throws and finished just 60 percent from the line.
Breaking the press as a team
When Cousins, the Sooners' point guard, looked to the center of the court Friday night, he saw something that wasn’t there in the Sooners’ last game. He someone that wasn’t there.
Cousins was routinely left out to try in the face of West Virginia’s press in the Big 12 Championship semifinals. But in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Oklahoma figured out how to beat the press.
The Sooners just came to the aid of Cousins, who still took blame for his career-high in turnovers against the Mountaineers.
“Getting the ball in the middle to the 4 man is an important part of breaking the press,” Buford said. “Looking down the floor against West Virginia, we were really kind of timid with the ball. We worked on that during practice.”
Oklahoma turned the ball over just 10 times against Cal State-Bakersfield.
“Our guards are experienced, some of the most experienced in the nation,” Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler said. “They’re not really going to turn it over even if it’s press.”