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After slow first half, Buddy Hield explodes in second half to put OU in the Sweet 16

OKLAHOMA CITY -- VCU kept coming.

But so did Oklahoma's Buddy Hield.

During a furious Rams rally down the stretch in the second half, the Sooners' All-American kept answering. And ultimately, he propelled second-seeded Oklahoma to the Sweet 16 with an 85-81 victory Sunday over the 10th-seeded Rams at the Oklahoma City Regional.

Hield finished with 36 points, including 29 and five 3-pointers in the second half, to deliver perhaps his strongest case yet for the Wooden Award as the player of the year. The 36 points were Hield's third-highest scoring total of the season. And they couldn't have come at a more crucial time.

Despite Hield sitting the final 4:25 of the first half with two fouls, the Sooners led by 13 at halftime and seemed primed to put the Rams away.

VCU had other ideas. The Rams hit seven shots in a row early in the second half to turn the game into a back-and-forth showdown. VCU pulled to within three on Mo Alie-Cox's thunderous tomahawk slam, then took the lead on Michael Gilmore's back-to-back 3s.

The VCU flurry, however, also seemed to ignite Hield.

After breaking a press, the Sooners found Hield open for a knockdown 3 from the wing. Then, following a tie-up of possession at the other end, Hield turned to the Sooner fans, threw his hands up and shouted, "Let's go!" That got the partisan Oklahoma City crowd going. And it got Hield going, too.

Moments later, he thwarted a VCU steal attempt to knock down another 3. On Oklahoma's ensuing possession, Hield connected on a driving layup.

The Rams hung around but couldn't regain the lead. Nor could they find a way to slow Hield.

In the final seconds, as Hield shot his last free throw in his final collegiate game in the state of Oklahoma, the Sooner fans began chanting, "Buddy! Buddy!" And after the victory, as Hield waited to do a TV interview on the court, the crowd was chanting his name yet again.