By JOHN SHINN
Buddy Hield vowed that the broken bone in his right foot would keep him out less than four weeks. He took a major step toward fulfilling his pledge Monday.
The freshman guard returned to practice exactly three weeks after suffering the injury Feb. 11 against TCU.
“I’m really healed. It’s a little sore, but it’s nothing; it’s not bothering me,” Hield said following the workout.
In truth, the soreness is going to be a big deal.
OU coach Lon Kruger will not rush the freshman, who was averaging 8.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game prior to the injury, back onto the floor. Hield is fully cleared to practice by OU’s medical staff, but how much soreness he’s feeling in the right foot today will have an impact on when he returns.
“If he comes back tomorrow and there’s soreness then the chance goes way down,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “If he comes back feeling normal and (team physician Dr. Brock Schnebel and athletic trainer Alex Brown) feel good about it, it improves his chances.”
The Sooners (19-9, 10-6 Big 12) face West Virginia (13-16, 6-10) at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the season’s final game at Lloyd Noble Center. Hield wants to play in the game. He’s missed the last five due to the injury.
Still, he’s think about the long term (Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments) more than the short term.
“Hopefully, coach Kruger will let me play because it’s the last home game on Wednesday,” Hield said. “If not, I know I need to take my time and be patient and not rush it. It’s hard to be patient when you get in practice because you always want to do more. You never know what will happen. I just want to be steady and be able to help my team in any way.”
Ultimately, the decision won’t be made by Hield or even Kruger.
“Buddy won’t play unless the doctors say he’s full to go; It’s not a matter of risking anything,” the Sooners’ coach said. “If he plays, it means the doctors said he’s 100 percent. We’re not going to play him at 80; we’re not going to play him at 90.”
Up to No. 22 in the RPI
The Sooners rose to No. 22 in the latest Rating Percentage Index released by the NCAA Monday. After’s last week’s stunning loss to Texas, OU only dropped three spots in the index that is heavily weighted by the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
“If you would have said in October we would be 22 (in the RPI) at this point, we would have been thrilled,” Kruger said. “Sure, I think anyone in the country would take that from the standpoint of at this point.”
Among Big 12 teams, Kansas (No. 4) and Kansas State (No. 18) are the only teams ahead of OU. OSU is No. 26.
Dominating at home
The Sooners have won their last four home games and beaten Kansas, TCU, Baylor and West Virgina in that span.
What’s more impressive is the largest deficit OU faced in those games was three points two minutes into the Kansas game. The Sooners took the lead for good about 5 1/2 minutes into that game.
They haven’t trailed at Lloyd Noble Center in the last 154 minutes and 26 seconds.
Seed not settled
The Sooners would be the No. 4 seed in next week’s Big 12 tournament if the regular season ended today. At 10-6 in the league, the only way OU could rise any higher would with wins over West Virginia and TCU this week coupled with Oklahoma State 12-4 losing at Iowa State Wednesday and at home to Kansas State Saturday.
OU would get the nod for the No. 3 seed due to the tiebreaker. The teams split during the regular season. Then it goes to the records against the teams in the league atop the standings. Both split with Kansas. If OSU lost the Wildcats, both would have been swept by them. The tiebreaker would be their marks against Baylor. OU swept its two games against the Bears. The Cowboys split theirs.