The No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners faced a tough test Saturday on the road against the No. 25 Texas Longhorns, and they were unable to pass it, losing 76-63 at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.
While the No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks clinched the Big 12 regular-season title earlier in the day, the Sooners dropped from second place to third with a conference record of 10-6 and an overall mark of 22-6. The Longhorns improved to 10-6 in Big 12 play and 19-10 overall.
Texas seemed to be in line for an NCAA tournament bid before Saturday's game, and the win may have solidified that standing, as Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman pointed out:
Texas adding to its NCAA resume. Victims are NC, West Virginia, Iowa State, Baylor and now Oklahoma.— Kirk Bohls (@kbohls) February 27, 2016
The Longhorns received contributions from their entire lineup, but junior guard Isaiah Taylor paced them with 18 points and five assists, including eight makes on nine free-throw attempts.
As has been the case all season, senior guard Buddy Hield led Oklahoma, with a game-high 33 points on 12-of-24 shooting to go along with six rebounds.
The teams were within five points of each other for nearly the entire first half, and the Sooners took a three-point edge into the locker room due almost entirely to Hield's dominant play.
He scored 23 of the Sooners' 40 points and was especially deadly from outside, per ESPN:
Hield has made a habit of crossing the 20-point, five-rebound threshold this year, and he did it Saturday before the game was 20 minutes old, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Buddy Hield has his Big 12-leading 13th game this season with at least 20 points and 5 rebounds. It’s not even halftime.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 27, 2016
Hield was so dominant shooting the ball in the first half that Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News hesitantly compared him to the best basketball player in the world:
I'm not saying Buddy Hield is the college Steph Curry. That'd be hyperbolic and dumb. But Buddy Hield kind of is the college Steph Curry.— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) February 27, 2016
Hield hit another trifecta early in the second half to keep the momentum rolling and add to his ledger another game with at least five made three-pointers:
Buddy Hield now with 5 threes today. This is his 12th game this season with 5+ threes, 3 more than any other player in the nation.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 27, 2016
Oklahoma seemed poised to pull away, but Texas kept it close and largely held Hield in check after his incredible first-half showing.
The Longhorns also started to make some emphatic plays to get the crowd into the game, such as this huge block by center Prince Ibeh, via CBS Sports CBB:
Prince Ibeh, welcome to the block party. https://t.co/3mYWDDBMFs— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) February 27, 2016
Things truly started to swing in Texas' favor with roughly seven minutes remaining and Oklahoma leading, 58-51. From that point forward, the Longhorns went on a 22-0 run, which put them on top, 73-58, with less than one minute remaining.
The scoring drought seemingly exposed the weakness of the Sooners' supporting cast, as ESPN's Fran Fraschilla noted:
I know I get crushed by the haters, but I don't enjoy Oklahoma playing so much one on one down the stretch of games.— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) February 27, 2016
Guard Jordan Woodard was the only other Oklahoma player to score in double digits with 15 points, while Texas had five players reach that mark, including two off the bench.
Seth Davis of CBS Sports said the biggest difference was the Sooners' inability to get to the basket and the free-throw line:
Very impressive finish here by Texas. Once again Oklahoma is victimized by taking too many jump shoots. A big problem in March.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) February 27, 2016
The numbers backed up that assessment, as Oklahoma attempted just nine free throws to the Longhorns' 27.
While the victory was a huge one for Texas, it was an equally big setback for the Sooners, who now may be on the outside looking in when it comes to a No. 1 seed in March, per Brad Evans of Yahoo Sports:
Oklahoma's imminent demise at Texas will temporarily promote North Carolina to No. 1 line. Heels win at Virginia, drive stake deeper.— Brad Evans (@YahooNoise) February 27, 2016
Oklahoma still has a chance to finish the regular season strong with games against No. 19 Baylor and TCU as well as the Big 12 tournament remaining, but it may need some help from the teams in front of it in order to get better than a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Texas faces Kansas on Monday before its regular-season finale against Oklahoma State.
The Longhorns are almost certainly heading to the tourney, but if they can also knock off the Jayhawks and make some noise in the Big 12 tournament, then a higher seed than most anticipated could be on the horizon.
The Sooners have looked like a national championship contender all season, but it can be argued they were again exposed as a one-dimensional team Saturday.
Getting back on track prior to the Big Dance will be pivotal if they're to avoid a letdown when the games count.
Oklahoma was shell-shocked after allowing 22 unanswered points, and two of the team's key figures were left searching for answers.
When asked about the implosion, Hield wasn't aware how bad things had gotten for the Sooners, according to Finger:
Buddy Hield, asked what he thought of OU being outscored 22-0 during late stretch: "I didn't even know that happened."— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) February 27, 2016
Per Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle, Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger couldn't explain how things got away from OU:
Oklahoma's Lon Kruger on Texas' late second-half run: "It's kind of a blur, quite frankly." #Longhorns— Brian T. Smith (@ChronBrianSmith) February 27, 2016
The raucous crowd certainly seemed to give Texas a great deal of energy during its comeback, and Kruger acknowledged that, according to Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman:
OU coach Lon Kruger on Club Erwin's atmosphere: "It was fantastic, from a home-court advantage standpoint."— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) February 27, 2016
The Sooners threw the game away in some respects by committing to jump shots so often in the closing minutes, but Kruger was more than willing to give the Longhorns and head coach Shaka Smart credit, per Akshay Mirchandani of the Daily Texan:
Kruger on what Shaka Smart is doing: "They're fully committed to what they're doing."— Akshay Mirchandani (@amirchandani41) February 27, 2016
UT senior guard Javan Felix, one of five Texas players in double figures with 14 points, said he was pleased with the way the team performed but not surprised:
Javan Felix: "It’s big for us, but we feel like we’re a good team and we’re capable of stuff like this every time we step on the floor."— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) February 27, 2016
While the Longhorns came together in a big way down the stretch, Taylor backed Kruger's notion that the crowd played a big role as well:
Isaiah Taylor on the 22-0 run: "The fans, the crowd, they did a great job today."— Akshay Mirchandani (@amirchandani41) February 27, 2016
Texas has another massive home game Monday against Kansas, and while it will need another huge effort on the court, a similar showing by its fans could go a long way toward helping the Longhorns topple another giant.
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