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).
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Buddy is the real deal. I told him, ‘If I had a vote today, he’s my player of the year [in college basketball]. I think he’s been the most consistent player in the country this year.
Cal State Bakersfield coach Rod Barnes on Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield
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.”