Oklahoma’s strong rebounding effort is too much for Oregon
Oklahoma had a decided edge in the backcourt Saturday, an advantage that was borne out by the 61 points guards Buddy Hield, Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins combined for in the Sooners’ 80-68 West Regional final victory over Oregon at Honda Center.
But the blue-collar work the Sooners did on the glass, especially in the first half, against the supposedly superior front line of the Ducks was as much of a factor in Oklahoma reaching its first Final Four since 2002.
The Sooners had more offensive rebounds (11) in the first 20 minutes than Oregon had total rebounds (10). They turned six of those rebounds into 15 second-chance points, nine on three-pointers by Woodard, Cousins and Hield, and scored 12 points off turnovers en route to a 48-30 halftime lead.
“Yeah,” said Khadeem Lattin, Oklahoma’s 6-foot-9 sophomore forward, “we kind of just imposed our will in the paint.”
The paint was supposed to be Oregon’s domain, a place where quick and athletic forwards Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell, both shot-blocking specialists, and forward Dillon Brooks often dominate.
But Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler, Hield, who had three offensive rebounds in the first half, and reserve guard Christian James, who had three of his five offensive rebounds in the first half, continually beat the Ducks to the boards. The Sooners outrebounded Oregon, 23-10, in the first half.
“Just a very disappointing first half. They killed us on the boards,” Coach Dana Altman said. “They were much quicker to the ball, much more active. I’m not sure if it was the energy that was produced by them hitting threes, but they just did a tremendous job on the boards. Them getting second opportunities for 15 points really put us in a hole that we could never recover from.”
The 6-8, 234-pound Spangler played 35 bruising minutes, collecting four points and six rebounds, and Lattin finished with six points, two rebounds and a blocked shot. Oklahoma outrebounded Oregon, 38-32, in the game and had only two of its shots blocked.
“Just being physical and strong in there and making sure we get a body on them,” Spangler said. “I think they’ve killed a lot of teams because they used their size and length and athleticism to go up there and get the ball. Today, we made sure we put a body on them and didn’t let them get that many.”
Hield said he and Kobe Bryant shared a moment Saturday when the Lakers star, who was in attendance, “saluted” the Sooners star after Hield made a 25-foot three-pointer eight seconds before halftime.
But Hield, projected to be a top-10 pick in the NBA draft, had to draw a line when teammate Jamuni McNeace compared him to Bryant, saying that Hield “plays like Kobe, is competitive like Kobe, he scores like Kobe.”
Said Hield: “I’m not Kobe Bryant, and they should not compare me. I’m far away from him. I just make shots. It’s kind of cool, but me and Kobe are in two different classes, and I don’t need to be compared with him.”
Hield, Woodard, Cousins and Spangler have started 104 consecutive games together over the last three seasons, and their on-court chemistry was very apparent to the Ducks.
“They’ve been together for four years, so they know each other,” Bell said. “I don’t see why they wouldn’t win the whole thing. They are so connected and play so well together. They don’t argue with each other. They play very respectfully together.”
Left out again
The Pac-12 Conference’s Final Four drought has reached eight seasons. No Pac-12 team has advanced out of its region since UCLA in 2008.
Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna
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