Knocking down five 3-point shots, senior guard Buddy Hield’s 25 point performance not only solidified his stance as a top-tier player, but confirmed Oklahoma’s standing as a top team after an 88-60 win over Washington State in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.
But even with the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year building his resumé, it was his surrounding cast that made a silent but strong showing for the Sooners.
Oklahoma has long been a team in which the starting five gets a majority of playing time. Most of the bench gets comfortable riding the pine — rarely getting over ten minutes of play time.
It’s those few minutes of playing time that has started to separate the Sooners from the pack, though. Who’s going to step up behind Hield, Ryan Spangler, Isaiah Cousins, and Jordan Woodward? The Sooners have a fluid sixth man, depending on the game.
Last night, the star to emerge from the bench was freshman forward Dante Buford. Heading into the game, Buford was averaging about eight minutes per game, barely posting two points per. On the night against Washington State, he dropped 11 points playing 16 minutes, his most since the season opener.
Considering it was a 26-point blowout, it wasn’t all that surprising to see head coach Lon Kruger start to develop young talent like Buford (all 15 players on the roster had at least some playing time). But to see him control the hardwood as he did over Oklahoma’s other backups tossed into action for considerable time, like guard Dinjiyl Walker, is promising for a team that has mostly relied on the talents of its primary four players.
Walker has been a hit and miss player this season, all depending on his playing time.
In Oklahoma’s 23-point win over Villanova, he was responsible for 11 points in 18 minutes and contributed well on defense. Before him, it was sophomore forward Khadeem Lattin who posted 12 points in 18 minutes of action during a 43-point win against Central Arkansas.
Each game, the Sooners have found a way to uniquely spread the wealth while letting its star players be the central attraction.
It doesn’t take away from Hield’s value. It only helps him increase his stock as teams now need to contain the other players Kruger sends out for limited action.
Despite playing 20 minutes on the night, Walker walked away with just four points, one rebound and one assist. The Cougars were concentrating on limiting him, letting Buford emerge as a new viable set of hands. He also brought down five boards, helping Oklahoma out-rebound Washington State 42-32.
Make no mistake, Oklahoma is still a team that thrives on the starters. Hield is the star, but his contemporaries continue to impress, as Cousins and Woodard combined for 23 points and 11 assists as well.
With new players like Buford popping up every other game, though, Oklahoma is a tough team to crack.
The Sooners don’t fall into patterns often, and they have the depth to help keep their success a cryptic secret. Now the only question is this:
Who will be the next player to help elevate the game of one of the nation’s most surprisingly dominant teams?