Buddy Hield was more than excited to go home and play in his native country of the Bahamas this week. With dozens of family members in the stands on Wednesday, Hield put up 24 points—17 in the second half—to lead Oklahoma to a 75-65 win over UCLA in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
The Sooners lost on the road to Creighton a week ago, a surprising upset for a veteran team with the potential to make a lot of noise this year. But OU regrouped in the Bahamas—probably the most loaded tournament field in the country—to get back on track early in the season.
Oklahoma has shown a tendency over the past two years to fall too much in love with jump shots and that was the case again against UCLA. The Sooners threw up an incredible 38 3-pointers on Wednesday, tying a school record set in 1990 against Loyola-Marymount. OU made 10 of them, just enough to come up with the win. For the game, Oklahoma shot just 32.8 percent, but UCLA wasn't much better at 37.7 percent.
Hield was a big reason why the Sooners were able to advance on the winner's side of the bracket. Playing at home for the first time—with some of his family members seeing him play for the first time since he went to college—Hield was a little flat early on and seemed to be pressing a bit. The Sooners were struggling, down 15-8 before Frank Booker came off the bench to provide a burst of energy.
Booker has talked a lot about becoming a more complete player and he showed that against UCLA. He hit two 3-pointers to get the Sooners back in the game and then also played terrific defense, drawing two charges late in the half. Booker finished with 11 points, but his first half production was vital for the Sooners.
Ragged play and foul trouble plagued both teams in the first half, as the Sooners took a 32-27 lead into the locker room. OU took 22 3-pointers to just 12 shots from inside the arc in the first 20 minutes, but most of them were good looks that just didn't fall.
UCLA tied the score at 34 quickly out of the locker room behind the shooting of point guard Bryce Alford. Alford finished the game with 19 points and all 12 of his second-half points came in the first eight minutes of the half. The Sooners used their defense to force three straight turnovers, resulting in a 41-34 lead. But UCLA rallied, outscoring the Sooners 23-8 over the next seven minutes to take a 57-49 lead with 9:08 remaining.
During the run, UCLA freshman Kevon Looney asserted himself inside, dominating the Sooners in the paint and on the offensive glass. Looney finished with 16 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
That's when the hometown hero took over.
Hield began attacking the UCLA zone, drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line. He also found his stroke from the 3-point line after going 1-of-6 from distance in the first half. Before you knew it, Hield had scored 10 points in 90 seconds to give OU a 59-57 lead.
That was the burst of energy the Sooners needed and they responded on the defensive end as well. OU didn't trail again, and UCLA scored eight points the rest of the game, shooting 1-of-7 from the field with three turnovers. The Bruins didn't do themselves any favors at the free throw line, hitting just 9-of-21 for the game.
Oklahoma, meanwhile, had an answer for every UCLA threat, none bigger than Hield's transition 3-pointer with 2:17 remaining which pushed the OU lead back to six. The Sooners also went 7-of-8 from the free throw line in the last five minutes and 23-of-30 for the game.
The Sooners take on Butler in the winner's bracket of the tournament at noon CT on Thursday.