OKLAHOMA CITY – Even before the Oklahoma Sooners took the court in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, VCU was already talking about Buddy Hield: How to slow him down, how great of a scorer he is and how to not worry solely about him.
It’s clear, as it will be for the rest of the tournament, that Hield will be a focus for most teams the Sooners play.
As his players were address the question of defending Hield in the Rams’ post-game press conference, first-year coach Will Wade interrupted them.
“If he has 40, it’s on me,” VCU coach Will Wade said.
Guard JeQuan Lewis called Hield a great player. Senior Melvin Johnson said Hield is “one of the best players in college basketball, if not the best.”
But VCU’s approach Sunday won’t be dependent on who is on the court against them.
“It’s basketball in March,” Johnson said. “You can’t necessarily worry about who you’re playing against. It’s more so nameless, faceless. Go out, execute your formula and see what happens.”
VCU’s formula hasn’t changed much in the departure of Shaka Smart, who is in his first year as the coach at Texas. The Rams push the tempo, can score quickly when defense becomes offense and clean up on the offensive glass.
That sounds just like West Virginia, which beat Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship semifinals. And it should, but the tenth-seeded Rams (25-10) are a little bit of a lighter version. VCU forced only six turnovers against Oregon State, which is good news for Oklahoma coming off only 10 turnovers against Cal State-Bakersfield in the first round.
VCU, which missed only two field goal inside the 3-point arc midway through the second half, jumped out early on Oregon State and trailed for less than three minutes all game.
The Rams will bring an added physicality that mirrors Cal State-Bakersfield, only a little bit tougher. Mo Alie-Cox, who could be an NFL tight end in the future, anchors the frantic defense that wore down Oregon State in the full court and the half court.
“I thought we had a pretty good athleticism advantage in a lot of spots, and we wanted to play in the open court and play in space where we could use our quickness advantage,” Wade said. “They were bigger than us in most spots, but I tell our guys all the time, I’d rather be the quicker team and the bigger team sometimes. . . . But our guys played tough. Our guys were really good from the jump, and they deserve credit for that.”