Another career game by Trae Young has Oklahoma looking like a Final Four team
Oncoming problem for sportswriters across this great nation: the English language does not have a deep enough supply of adjectives to continually introduce new ways of depicting Trae Young.
Oklahoma’s freshman wonder did it again Saturday, which is to say he looked like the best player in the sport; which is to say he lengthened his laughably comfortable lead for national player of the year honors; which is to say that Young is proving incapable of truly having a bad game. Against 16th-ranked TCU, Young drove No. 9 Oklahoma to a 102-97 overtime victory while matching his career high of 43 points. Young was 10 of 18 on 3-pointers and also had a career-high 11 rebounds, plus seven assists (and nine turnovers).
According to ESPN’s research, no other player from a “major conference” in the previous two decades has had a game with at least 40 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 3s in one game. This sort of ludicrousness is what Young is pulling off almost every game. Since late November, no matter the opponent, there’s almost always a school or in-season record Young is providing. Young’s 10 3-pointers were one shy of the school’s single-game record.
He’ll probably break that by next week.
His nine double-doubles are the most in the Big 12 this season.
A triple-double feels inevitable.
Saturday’s win got Young to 160 assists this season. It’s already a freshman program record.
In the grander scheme, Young is chasing the unprecedented: No player has ever led the nation in points and assists. At 30.1 points and 9.9 assists per, he’s still in command of both categories. But while it’s easy — and warranted — to make every Sooners win about Young, the reality is Oklahoma is the highest-scoring team in college basketball. Young’s facilitating that, but there’s a lot of scoring talent around him.
Let’s pinpoint some evidence on this. Take a look at this critical play near the end of regulation, the play that gave Oklahoma the lead. Young dips into the mid-range, and you see four Frogs instinctually drift toward him. Junior shooting guard Christian James emerges on the weak-side wing. Young sends the ball to him, and bang. It’s 89-87.
James, by the way, averages 13 points. He’s the Sooners’ not-so-secret weapon. Oklahoma dumped a program-record 19 treys on TCU, doing it at a 58-percent clip.
This Sooners win got the team to 14-2, with a 4-1 mark in the league. OU is now tied with Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech atop the league standings. No one has any idea who the best team in this conference is right now, but it’s safe to dub all four of those teams Final Four threats. Yes, Oklahoma. Specifically Oklahoma! The Sooners’ offensive and Young’s transcendent shooting ability puts the Sooners on a plane for themselves.
Saturday’s win marked Oklahoma’s fifth victory this season over a ranked opponent — as many as any team in college hoops.
What’s fascinating about Oklahoma at this point is it’s not yet a top-10 team in points per possession. But because Oklahoma is playing 78 possessions per game (third most in the sport), and because Young has zip-code range, the Sooners are not only a threat to win any game, but they’re also impossible to turn off even when they slip into rare deficits.
Oklahoma’s hit the century mark six times this season, matching Gonzaga for most in college basketball. Young’s had a 40-burger twice, meaning if he does it one more time in 2017-18 he’ll only trail Wayman Tisdale’s career mark of five for the program record.
Here’s how this happens. Notice how Young is dropping long 3s — and how easy it is. It’s so easy because his handle is among the best in college basketball, and although he’s not an A-level athlete, he’s still quick enough to get by defenders who dare step to him 27 feet from the rim.
The notion of stopping Young at the college level now seems illegal. You can try to get in his head — as West Virginia did, when WVU beat Oklahoma last Saturday — but that alone is not going to toss the Sooners off their course. The Big 12 is the best league in America by a wide margin, and Young is the best player in the country by an even wider one. Through creativity and with an offense that hits like a hammer, Oklahoma’s proven itself as a Final Four threat no matter how the rest of the regular season plays out.