HOUSTON -- This isn’t the way anyone pictured Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield going out. He has been one of the faces of college basketball this season, the one whose smile flashed as brightly as his ability to score.
With his many achievements, the only proper way for Hield to be beaten was while giving a Kansas effort, like when he went for 46 points against the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse. Or, perhaps, in an Oregon effort, in which he scored 37 against the Ducks in the Elite Eight.
When he scored the first basket of Saturday's Final Four with a 3-pointer and then sliced through the Villanova defense for a reverse layup, it appeared Hield might be in store for one of those special performances -- you know, the kind Hield was capable of, the kind that often included effortless shooting from deep and made him resemble Stephen Curry-lite all season.
“I was aggressive at first -- first half," Hield said. “When a team is making shots, making everything, it just sucks the life out of you.”
Villanova kept on making shots, while the 6-foot-4 senior guard never got on the roll that had come to be expected from him this season. The Freeport, Bahamas, native, who averaged 25.4 points per game this season, scored just nine points in the Sooners’ 95-51 loss to Villanova.
“Games like this, I feel, define your career because you want to go out there and prove everyone wrong and win a national championship for your school,” Hield said.
Buddy Hield will be defined by a lot of things, but his going 4-for-12 against Villanova in the NCAA tournament won’t be one of them.
He’ll be remembered more for the small gestures he made behind the scenes, things such as hopping out of the golf cart while an NCAA representative assigned to drive him to the locker room waited for him to do a TV interview for a Bahamas tourist channel.
Despite feeling his lowest in terms of basketball after Saturday's game, Hield still had the inclination to stop for a “pound and hug” handshake with a well-wisher before he entered the media scrum waiting to engulf him at his locker.
“People enjoyed watching the way he played the game, the enthusiasm, the joy that he played it with,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “Obviously, you know, great, great shooter, made shots, got good results on the floor. But I think even more than that, they liked the way he went about it with that passion and enthusiasm.”
Hield scored 18 against Villanova on Dec. 7, when the Sooners won 78-55 in Honolulu. He said the Wildcats were much more aggressive defensively in playing him Saturday.
Nova used several players to chase Hield. They limited his shots by not allowing much separation when he didn’t have the ball and smothered him even more when he did.
“You can’t discredit what they did. They made it tough on me,” Hield said. “I’d drive to the basket, and they’d pick up charges. I committed turnovers. They were aggressive on me and just take me out of rhythm.”
Hield will not be defined by one of his worst games of the season. As Nova proved, he could have scored 20 more points, and the Sooners still would have come up short.
Saturday's game was only the second time this season that he was held to single digits, but Hield didn’t take much comfort in knowing how much of an aberration the game was.
“This one is going to hurt for a little bit,” he said. “We made it to the Final Four, but you’ve got everyone watching you, it’s tough to go out like this. I can’t really reflect on my career right now.”
Kruger made references to Hield's having a “good story.” That story includes making himself into a potential lottery pick in the NBA draft by returning to school for his senior season. His story might not have a grand conclusion, but he rewrote the script on his career by leading the Sooners to their first Final Four since 2002.
“I’m disappointed for Buddy today,” Kruger said, “but just really appreciate everything that he’s done for the program [and], I think, college basketball as well.”