Oklahoma really needed a win on Saturday.
The Sooners coughed up a 21-point second half lead Monday night at Iowa State, as well as a chance at a Big 12 title. Rebounding against Kansas is a big ask, even a Kansas team playing without three of its best players.
Regardless of who suited up for the Jayhawks, the opponent was still Kansas, so when Buddy Hield's tip-in fell through the net with 0.2 seconds remaining to give OU a 75-73 win over the Jayhawks, the Sooners had their biggest win of the season.
Sure, Oklahoma has beaten a lot of good teams this year—Butler, West Virginia, Iowa State and Baylor to name a few—but the Sooners lacked a statement win of sorts, one that stood apart from the rest, even if ever so slightly. Oklahoma got that win on Saturday in a packed and wild Lloyd Noble Center, an uncommon sight in Norman over the years.
With the win, OU locked itself into the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the Big 12 tournament next week in Kansas City. An Iowa State win over TCU Saturday night will push the Sooners to the No. 3 seed, where they will take on Oklahoma State in part three of Bedlam.
The Sooners almost didn't get the win, as Isaiah Cousins fouled Frank Mason on a 3-pointer with 5.4 seconds left and the Sooners up 73-70. Mason made all three with ease, setting up Hield's heroics.
Jordan Woodard drove the length of the court and got a terrific, open look at the basket, but his momentum caused the shot to be long. Hield came in off the left wing unchecked and soared in to tip the ball in, setting off a party at the LNC.
Hield's game-winner might have been the junior's best statement in the race for Big 12 Player of the Year. Hield had 18 points and seven rebounds despite shooting just 6-of-20 from the field. He didn't allow the bad shooting performance deter him, as he made several key plays down the stretch that kept the Sooners in front at critical moments.
With Kansas playing without Perry Ellis (injury), Cliff Alexander (NCAA investigation) and Brannen Greene (suspension), it looked like the Sooners would be able to coast to a big win if they played well. But Kansas is still a good team with a lot of talented players and the Jayhawks didn't lie down and take a beating from the Sooners.
The Sooners led nearly the entire first half, leading by as many as 11 points, but OU held just a 32-30 lead at halftime thanks to Kansas' dominance on the boards. The Jayhawks had 14 offensive rebounds which led to 15 second-chance points in the first 20 minutes. The Sooners held Kansas to 27 percent shooting in the first half, so without those offensive boards, the Sooners would have been cruising.
Both teams found the basket in the early going of the second half, as an Isaiah Cousins steal and dunk plus the foul pushed the OU lead to 47-40 at the 15:12 mark. The Sooners locked down on the boards in the second half, out-rebounding Kansas 26-13 in the second half and 13-2 on the offensive glass. Kansas had just two second-chance points in the final 20 minutes.
But Kansas didn't need second-chance points when they were hitting on their first attempt. The Jayhawks shot 53.8 percent in the second half. Kansas took its first lead of the second half with 8:10 to play, but the lead changed hands on four straight possessions and OU ended up with a 60-58 lead after the flurry with 6:23 to play.
Even though Hield struggled throughout, his 3-pointer with 5:22 to play put the Sooners up for good.
Cousins finished with 16 points while Thomas had 11 points. Ryan Spangler had nine point and 11 rebounds, just his second double-digit performance there in the last month.
Mason had 21 to lead four Kansas players in double figures. Landen Lucas had 13 and 12 rebounds, while Kelly Oubre and Jamari Traylor each had 12 points.
Saturday's win was the Sooners' second over Kansas under Lon Kruger. With the regular season over, Oklahoma can look to accomplishing something Kruger hasn't done in his time in Norman: winning a postseason game. OU has been bounced in the first round of the Big 12 tournament three straight years, but if there was ever a year to end that streak, it's this year.
Saturday wasn't for a Big 12 title, but for Oklahoma it was a chance to make a statement and build confidence toward a deep run in March. The Sooners needed the win, and as the Sooners have done often this year, they took care of business.