By Cliff Brunt
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
NORMAN, Okla. _ Buddy Hield has one last chance to electrify college basketball.
Oklahoma’s explosive 6-foot-4 guard came back for his senior season after considering jumping to the NBA, and he made the most of it. The Bahamas native ranks second nationally with 25.0 points per game, and now, he has the chance to accomplish the goal he set when he chose to return _ take the Sooners to the Final Four. Oklahoma opens NCAA Tournament play Friday in Oklahoma City against Cal State Bakersfield.
“Just go out there and compete as hard as you can and leave it on the floor,” he said Sunday after the brackets were announced. “You can’t get a game back. It’s going to be heartbreaking that I won’t be playing any more college games (after the tournament), but you just go out there and compete and have fun, and have no regrets when you leave the court.”
Hield’s final season has been filled with special moments. He scored 46 points at Kansas in a triple-overtime loss and drew a standing ovation from fans at Allen Fieldhouse. He drained seven 3-pointers in the second half in a comeback win at LSU and got the best of a showdown with projected No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Ben Simmons. He hit a game-winning 3-pointer against Texas and later dropped 39 points against Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals. The halfcourt shot Hield made against West Virginia in the Big 12 semifinals would have been a game winner, but he released it just late.
He leads the nation with 127 made 3-pointers. He attempts 8.6 3-pointers per game, fourth in the nation, yet ranks 11th nationally among players with at least 1.5 makes per game at 46.4 per cent.
He does plenty of damage inside, too _ he shoots 53.2 per cent inside the arc and 89.5 per cent from the free-throw line on 5.4 attempts per game. He is 49.6 per cent from the field overall, an exceptional mark for a player who shoots so often from the perimeter.
“A lot of scoring, energy, a good teammate just flying around,” Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler said.
Hield has improved significantly each college season.
He was a knockdown shooter as a sophomore, but often settled for jumpers. He became stronger and began attacking the basket more as a junior and was named Big 12 Player of the Year. After listening to feedback from the NBA, he improved his ball handling and decision making during the off-season. He was named Big 12 Player of the Year again this season and is in position to be a lottery pick. He has scored 30 or more points 10 times this season.
He has business to handle before worrying about the pros. He remembers the way his last trip to the NCAA Tournament ended _ a loss to Michigan State in the Sweet 16. He said he learned from that game.
“Just don’t take no plays off,” he said. “Fight fatigue when you’re out there tired. There’s going to be a lot of tough games. Go out there and execute, rebound the ball. You’ve got to be ready to go out there and compete, locked in and focused.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .
This version corrects the number of games in which Hield has scored at least 30 points. He has done it 10 times, not nine.