KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- On Thursday night, Oklahoma secured a 79-76 victory over Iowa State in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament. Here's an instant analysis of the game:
This is the same Buddy Hield recap you've read a million times. Guess what? Hield used a cheat code and turned Sprint Center, often called "Hilton South" by Cyclones fans, into his canvas. Cyclones fans clearly outnumbered Sooners supporters. But Iowa State's backers grew quiet as Hield exploded for a 39-point performance, an output that strengthened his case for the Wooden Award.
He had 33 points with 7 minutes, 43 seconds to play. The rest of his team had 28. He slashed. He hit big 3-pointers. He was impossible to stop in transition. On his first score of the game, he drove past Matt Thomas, who played him tight. On his second bucket, he launched a deep 3-pointer as Thomas backed off to create a cushion he assumed would help him recover if Hield drove to the rim again. That didn't work. With those two sequences, Thomas entered the same quagmire defenders have found themselves in all season:
How do you stop Buddy Hield?
Few recent campaigns have matched the balance of 2015-16. So what happens when two teams with comparable talent meet on a neutral floor in the coming weeks? What will be the difference? For the next three weeks, the difference could be the individual talents who can offer their respective squads that necessary nudge to win key games in the NCAA tournament.
Hield proved as much Thursday. If you have him on your roster, you're in good shape.
Hield saved the moment again. Yes, it's a narrative that has followed the Wooden contender all season. But it fits.
On Thursday, Hield just outplayed everyone on the floor. Again. And that was enough to carry the Sooners to a Friday semifinal matchup with West Virginia.
Crucial swing widens Oklahoma lead in the final minutes: Midway through the second half, Abdel Nader picked up a suspect offensive foul, a whistle that negated a bucket that would have cut Iowa State's deficit to six. On that same play, Cyclones coach Steve Prohm protested the call and got hit with a technical foul. Hield made both free throws to extend Oklahoma's lead to 10 points. He drew a foul on his alley-oop dunk on the subsequent possession. Three more points, and a 13-point lead for the Sooners. Iowa State kept fighting, but the Cyclones missed a key opportunity there.
Monte Morris' slump: You can't pin the loss on one player. That's not fair. But Morris is still tussling with a nasty scoring drought. In his past three games, Iowa State's junior guard is 5-for-24. He also committed an intentional foul on Jordan Woodard during a late fast break Thursday. Not the best stretch. And tough for any team that turned a late 14-point deficit into a four-point gap.
Isaiah Cousins: He's a great complement to Hield. No doubt Hield was the star Thursday. But Cousins' gritty effort (10 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals) contributed to the final tally, too.
Georges Niang's big night not enough: Has any player ever recorded a more unsung 31-point game? Story of his career.