Kansas hopes to defend hot-shooting Oklahoma


Cliff Brunt - AP Sports Writer



Cliff Brunt

AP Sports Writer

OKLAHOMA CITY — Kansas coach Bill Self expects his Jayhawks to have their hands full Saturday dealing with Buddy Hield and the rest of the sharp-shooting Oklahoma Sooners.

Hield dropped in 46 points in Kansas’ 109-106 triple-overtime win on Jan. 4, but the nation’s No. 2 scorer is just part of the story. Third-ranked Oklahoma leads the nation in 3-point shooting percentage by a significant margin heading into the rematch with the sixth-ranked Jayhawks. The Sooners are shooting .451 from beyond the arc — no team has finished a season with as high a percentage since Indiana shot .454 in 1994.

Oklahoma boasts three of the nation’s best in 3-point shooting percentage — Hield ranks seventh at .500, Jordan Woodard is 15th at .486 and Isaiah Cousins is 22nd at .468 for the season. Forward Ryan Spangler shoots .355 from beyond the arc.

But it’s not just a matter of making jumpers. Self said Oklahoma’s ability to attack inside the arc creates open threes.

“I think that Oklahoma is probably the hardest personnel to guard, I think, because all of them can go get their own,” Self said. “All of them put pressure on the defense. None of them are just one-dimensional.”

It starts with Hield, who averages 25.7 points per game and hit a game-winning 3-pointer Monday against Texas. This season, he’s attacking, yet showing a willingness to share the ball. Kansas (20-4, 8-3 Big 12) can’t focus too much on Hield because he, Cousins and Woodard, Oklahoma’s top three scorers, all rank in the top 12 in the conference in assists during league play.

“Maybe something that’s gone unnoticed a little bit is the fact that all our guys can drive and kick, and they can all handle it, and they like doing that,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “They like passing to each other, and they’re passing the ball well. Most of our shots from three are pretty good rhythm jumpers. They’re not hard shots off the dribble. And the passes are on target.”

Oklahoma (20-3, 8-3) shot at least 50 percent from 3-point range in three straight conference games during a particularly torrid stretch. And the Sooners aren’t just shooting a high percentage because of volume — they rank fourth nationally in 3-pointers made per game but only 44th in 3-pointers attempted.

Because they have so many good shooters, they usually can find one who is hot. Cousins went through a skid earlier during Big 12 play but has made 18 of 28 threes his past seven games.

“Isaiah’s playing unbelievable right now,” Hield said. “He’s sharing the ball and making shots. He’s making things tough for the defense.”

Woodard led the nation in 3-point shooting percentage at one point. He scored 27 points and made 6 of 9 3-pointers the first time Oklahoma played Kansas. He has been a bit off lately, but the damage he’s already done leaves defenses on edge.

“Jordan’s been Jordan all year,” Hield said. “He hasn’t been shooting the ball good these past couple of games, but I know come Saturday, he’s going to be locked in and focused. Every time I come into the gym, he’s there, you know, 1, 2 o’clock in the morning, shooting.”

Spangler is a unique combination — an enforcer who leads the Big 12 in rebounding during league play, and a skilled shooter with excellent court vision. He said the confidence the other scorers have in him helps him feel comfortable.

“When you know that all the guys on the floor want you to shoot that shot, then it makes it easier for you,” he said. “And we make sure we find the open guy.”

Hield remains Kansas’ primary concern, and Self said Frank Mason will have much of the defensive responsibility for him. Self said Mason actually did a decent job last time, and that’s what is scary.

“If Frank had not been on our team, he (Hield) would have got 60,” Self said. “I mean he scored, I’d say, 50 percent of the time he touched it, when Frank was guarding him. But he didn’t touch it very often. If he’d have gotten 10 more touches, he could have scored 10 more points, easily.”

Cliff Brunt

AP Sports Writer

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