HOUSTON — The most joyful noise at this year’s Final Four has been generated by Oklahoma’s unrepentant, unflinching, unstoppable gunner, Buddy Hield. You’d be happy, too, if you were averaging 29.2 points per game in the tournament, shooting 56.7 percent overall, including 47.5 percent from three-point range, and basically had the green light to shoot from anywhere in the gym.
Hield is as bright and sunny as his native Bahamas, and he’s especially happy that his decision to stay at Oklahoma (29-7) for his senior year paid off in a national semifinals berth against Big East champion Villanova (33-5) on Saturday night at NRG Stadium.
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“For the past three years, I’ve been on my couch watching the Final Four,” Hield said, “but now I’m here. I don’t have that sick feeling no more.”
Not only is Hield feeling the love in Oklahoma, but he’s become the kind of sensation in the college game that Steph Curry is in the NBA because of his “no-limits” shooting range. Believe it or not, he was held to six points in a loss to West Virginia in the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament, but he hasn’t encountered those same constraints during the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s been a blessing coming out of the Big 12 because teams tend to guard me better and know what I’m capable of doing,” Hield said. “Playing in the NCAA Tournament and being freed up, teams can’t really figure me out yet or figure out this team.”
Villanova actually has some idea of what Hield can do after losing to the Sooners, 73-50, in the Pearl Harbor Classic on Dec. 7. The Wildcats actually held Hield to 18 points and 6-for-17 shooting, but several other Sooners had big games.
“I just missed shots,” Hield said. “No excuses.”
Villanova coach Jay Wright said Hield actually has extended his range this season by finishing better at the rim and also proving he can make shots well beyond the three-point arc. “The best player in college basketball has actually gotten better, which is incredible,” Wright said. “That range distorts everything . . . I don’t know if that’s part of his plan, but it’s genius if it is.”
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger agreed with Wright’s assessment, saying the two-time Big 12 player of the year actually could have gotten the “Most Improved Player” award as a senior as well.
“I was just trying to extend my range because everybody plays me too tight,” Hield said. “So each step-back move from way beyond the three-point line means they’ve got to come and guard me and there will be either a great driving lane for me or my teammates.”
Coming off a tournament-high 37-point performance in Oklahoma’s win over Oregon for the West Regional title, Hield said his coach and teammates know he has the “takeover game” if needed. He can adjust to any defense or make plays for his teammates.
As a player who grew up in the Bahamas shooting at makeshift baskets made from fruit crates, Hield said nothing bothers him, including the vast open space and lack of depth perception on the court in NRG Stadium.
“I’ve been shooting on crate courts all my life outside in the park, where it’s open and there’s palm trees and mango trees,” Hield said. “It shouldn’t affect me. If you’re a shooter, you’re a shooter. There’s no excuses.”
For Hield right now, life is a beach.