Rod Barnes, coach of Cal State-Bakersfield, has the word “Believe” emblazoned on his team’s warm-up shirts.
It is meant as a reminder to players that they can achieve great things despite minimal expectations from outsiders.
Barnes said Friday that he became a believer on another topic after watching Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield, the nation’s leading scorer, score 27 points in the Sooners’ 82-68 victory in an NCAA opener at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Hield made 8 of 14 shots from the field, including 3 of 6 from beyond the arc, and was part of a second-half surge that let the Sooners (27-7) prevail as a No. 2 seed and advance to a Sunday matchup against No. 10 Virginia Commonwealth (24-10).
If anything, Barnes said his first glimpse of Hield in person was even more impressive than he anticipated.
“Buddy is the real deal. I told him, ‘If I had a vote today, he’s my player of the year [in college basketball],’ ” Barnes said. “I think he’s been the most consistent player in the country this year.”
In terms of Friday, Barnes said the Sooners’ three-guard tandem of Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard lived up to his pregame fears of being “my biggest concern” about this first-round matchup. The trio combined for 58 of the Sooners’ points, including nine of the team’s 11 3-pointers.
Hield, who added five rebounds and two blocked shots, stood tallest by exceeding his 25.0 scoring average. Bakersfield guard Dedrick Basile, who guarded Hield on occasion, concurred with his coach.
“He’s a great player,” Basile said. “I respect him, too. I mean, it was crazy out there.”
Asked about his performance, Hield said: “It’s March. Teams are going to keep fighting. You’ve got to really put somebody away and just keep making shot after shot.”
Body clock blues
No. 7 Oregon State joined a long list of Pac-12 teams that lost their NCAA openers to lower-seeded teams with a 75-67 setback to No. 10 Virginia Commonwealth.
The Beavers (19-13) were one-and-done in their first March Madness appearance since 1990, dropping the Pac-12 to 1-5 (all as higher-seed teams) heading into Friday night’s game between top-seeded Oregon and No. 16 Holy Cross.
Unlike other Pac-12 favorites that fell, the Beavers acknowledged dealing with body-clock issues in Oklahoma City. Friday’s game tipped at 12:30 p.m. and required an 8 a.m. wake-up call for players (6 a.m. Pacific time), the earliest of the season, said forward Jarmal Reid.
“When I woke up, I was like, ‘I’m getting up this early to play an official basketball game?’ ” Reid said. “That’s tough but that’s part of the tournament. I feel like a lot of us still haven’t adjusted to Oklahoma time. So it was definitely tough to get going.
“You’re sluggish ... Anytime I get up at 6 a.m., it’s usually for a bathroom break where you get up, you’re sleepy, and you go back to bed. But this time, you had to get up, get your day started and prepare for a game mentally and physically. That’s quite a task.”
In 15 minutes of playing time, Reid finished with five points and one rebound in his final college game.
Although some players downplayed the body clock issue, guard Stephen Thompson said: “It might have played a little bit of a factor. We didn’t come out with enough intensity in the first half defensively.”
Ruling the paint
VCU scored 46 points in the paint, a deciding factor on a day when the Rams (24-10) made just 4 of 20 shots from behind the arc.
Included were 20 points from center Mo Alie-Cox, who made 7 of 8 shots.
“That’s a huge point of emphasis for us,” VCU coach Will Wade said. “We’re spotty from 3, so we have to put a lot of pressure on the rim. We’re one of those teams that may shoot 4 of 20 today and 14 of 20 on Sunday.”