No. 6 Oklahoma added another quality win to a potential No. 1-seed NCAA tournament resume with a 73-71 win over No. 19 Baylor on Tuesday night.
The result was on par with what Vegas expected (Odds Shark listed OU as a 7.5-point favorite in a game with 148 total points), but the way it played out served as evidence the Sooners could win the national championship or become the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed.
Yes, that's how drastic the variance is between Good Oklahoma and Bad Oklahoma.
For the first 10 minutes, we saw Good Oklahoma on steroids. The Sooners—who were on the wrong end of a 22-0 run in Saturday's loss to Texas—put together a 26-1 run against the Bears. By the time Buddy Hield gave Oklahoma a 26-3 lead with back-to-back three-pointers, Baylor had used more timeouts (two) than it had made field goals (one).
After less than eight minutes, Hield (13 points) had scored more than four times as many points as the Bears.
It looked like the game was already over, and Bleacher Report's C.J. Moore chimed in on Twitter:
Buddy in extreme bucket-getting mode tonight. Baylor in Washington Generals mode.— CJ Moore (@CJMooreBR) March 2, 2016
The teams played to a draw for the next 17-plus minutes, but then Baylor started to wake up as Oklahoma also seemed to believe the outcome had already been decided.
It took less than 11 minutes for a 58-34 Sooners lead to turn into a 68-67 deficit.
|Portion of the Game||3P FG||2P FG||Turnovers||Net Score|
|First 10 Minutes of First Half||6-9||4-7||2||+20|
|11-Minute Stretch in Second Half||1-4||3-9||10||-25|
"What happened there late again [was] similar to what happened on Saturday," Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger said in the postgame press conference. "Hard to explain, but [it's a] thing we got to change fast."
"This magnifies my concerns about Oklahoma," ESPN's Rece Davis said on SportsCenter on Tuesday night, "because in back-to-back games at almost the exact same point in the game, they've allowed huge runs."
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. And it certainly wasn't the first time the Sooners struggled to hang on to the ball for prolonged stretches of a game. Live-ball turnovers have been Oklahoma's Achilles' heel this season, as it ranks 283rd in the nation in allowed steal percentage.
Couple that bugaboo with an extreme reliance on the three-point shot and it shouldn't come as a surprise that Oklahoma is prone to such wild swings from one half to the next.
The Sooners average 10.6 made triples per game, which ranks fourth in the nation and is the highest mark among major conference teams. So, that's more than Indiana, more than Duke and more than Villanova. This team loves to let it fly and looks extremely good when those shots are falling—especially when Hield is demoralizing defenders by draining deep jumpers with ease.
But it's painfully vulnerable when those shots aren't falling, which is what we saw a little too often in February. The Sooners entered the month shooting 46.8 percent from three-point range but proceeded to lose four games in which they shot a combined 32-of-107 (29.9 percent) from beyond the arc.
Hield shot just 39 percent (30-of-77) in February (compared to 52.4 percent, 87-of-166, heading into the month), but at least he was still making shots at a good clip. Jordan Woodard was 9-of-40 (22.5 percent), and Ryan Spangler had only one game in February in which he actually made any three-pointers, shooting 22.2 percent (4-of-18) for the month.
Big 12 battle after Big 12 battle had taken its toll on the Sooners, as it seemed they were hitting the proverbial wall and playing on tired legs.
But they made 10 triples in consecutive games last week and opened the showdown with Baylor by hitting five of their first six. It felt like they were finally turning a corner and getting back to being a team that routinely shoots better than 50 percent from downtown.
Then, in little more than the blink of an eye, that good feeling was gone. Replacing it was a fear of trusting this team to win three straight games in March—let alone six of them.
Barring an impressive run through the Big 12 tournament, it's probably too late for the Sooners to do anything to regain our trust, but might there be a blueprint they can follow to be a little more consistent in the tournament?
It could be as simple as giving Hield all the shots he can handle.
Hield takes 31.5 percent of Oklahoma's shots when he's on the floor, which ranks 33rd in the nation, according to KenPom.com. But that number is too low, especially when you consider how many minutes per game Khadeem Lattin spends on the court not even remotely looking to get field-goal attempts.
In Doug McDermott's senior year, he took 38.6 percent of Creighton's shots while he was on the court. Stephen Curry was at 36 percent in the year of Davidson's magical Elite Eight run. Kevin Durant's rate was 34.3 percent for his one season at Texas.
How far will Oklahoma go in the NCAA tournament?
When you have an advantage, you exploit it, and Oklahoma isn't doing that nearly enough. In the final 7:57 of the first half and the first 3:53 of the second half against Baylor, Hield attempted just one shot. That's a span of nearly 12 minutes.
It's simply inexcusable, and it's why the Sooners couldn't put the finishing touches on what should have been an absolute blowout.
At Oklahoma's moderately uptempo pace, Hield should be taking no fewer than 20 shots per game. And if he has a bad night in the tournament, so be it. At least go down with no regrets.
Stats courtesy of KenPom.com unless noted otherwise.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.