ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Throughout Oklahoma’s 80-68 win over Oregon in the Elite Eight on Saturday at the Honda Center -- a game that pushed Oklahoma to the Final Four for the first time in 14 years -- Jordan Woodard struggled to find the gaps in the defense of an Oregon squad that employs five players in its seven-man rotation who are 6-foot-7 or taller.
But the 6-foot guard kept working to find room in the first half.
Then, Christian James drove into a flock of Ducks and searched for a bailout. That’s when Woodard, standing on the left wing unguarded, yelled for the ball.
James saw him on the perimeter and fired a pass to him. All net for a 3-pointer that helped Oklahoma amass an 18-point lead at halftime.
Buddy Hield’s sheer talent helped, too. He scored 17 points (5-for-6 from the 3-point line) in the first half. But Hield alone didn’t defeat Oregon. Oklahoma’s precise passing and consistent ball rotation was a major factor.
Hield’s five first-half turnovers proved as much. He didn’t take on the traps. He tried to skip the ball to his teammates on the opposite side of the floor. He made some poor decisions. But the philosophy made sense.
Move the ball and find the best shot.
Oregon’s size made it hard for every Oklahoma player not named Buddy Hield to score in isolation situations. The Ducks were just too long and quick. When Dante Buford tried to go up for a monster dunk, 6-9 forward Jordan Bell swatted the shot as the Oklahoma forward tumbled to the floor.
But the Ducks also overplayed penetration lanes and brought an extra man against Hield.
So Oklahoma just moved the ball until it found the best shot.
That’s how the Sooners finished the game with 16 assists on their 27 made field goals.
That’s how Isaiah Cousins scored a crucial 11 points and Woodard dropped another 13.
Few teams can go head-to-head with a team that boasts Oregon’s length, burst, size, speed and athleticism. The Ducks would win a playground game against any other squad in the country.
But Oklahoma forces opponents to make quick defensive decisions that are often bad decisions. The Ducks, like the rest, tried to shadow Hield. He still scored 37 points. And whenever they tried to recover from that failed plot to contend with the other players on the floor, the Sooners would exploit that moment to find the open man.
They share the ball.
And now Oklahoma will share a trip to the Final Four for the first time since 2002.