The notion that Oklahoma would be a better team if Trae Young adopted a pass-first mentality was always pretty ridiculous.
On Tuesday night, the prized freshman showed why by swatting aside Baylor’s upset bid with an epic scoring barrage.
Young topped the 40-point plateau for the third time in six games in 12th-ranked Oklahoma’s 98-96 victory over the visiting Bears. He scored 44 points on 11-for-20 shooting from the field and 16-for-19 shooting from the free throw line, stunningly efficient production considering the degree of difficulty on some of the shots he hit.
There was this impossibly deep 3-pointer.
And this stop-and-pop bomb from nearly as far.
Heck, even some of Young’s forays to the rim and acrobatic layups in the paint were SportsCenter-worthy.
Trae Young drops 44PTS 4REBS and 9ASTS in a win over Baylor pic.twitter.com/XP8FBfLoSp
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 31, 2018
Young’s huge night increases his season-long averages to 29.6 points and 9.6 assists per game, both easily the best in the nation. Oklahoma goes as Young goes almost every night since he is the Sooners’ only consistent shot creator, a responsibility that comes with virtually unheard of freedom with the ball in his hands but also makes him the target of opposing defenses.
How to deal with that increased defensive attention has been a month-long challenge for Young. He is still learning how to strike the proper balance between calling his own number and setting up his teammates when defenses are geared to stop him.
He turned the ball over a Big 12 record 12 times in a loss at Kansas State earlier this month because he didn’t adjust well to the Wildcats blitzing ball screens. He hoisted 39 shots against Oklahoma State in Oklahoma’s next game because he was trying to do too much himself. Then he over-corrected and only took nine the following week against Kansas because he was trying to show he wasn’t selfish.
But the game can still look very easy for Young in stretches, and his 31-point second half on Tuesday night was certainly an example of that.
Among the biggest reasons Young was closer to peak form was he was playing freely and aggressively against a Baylor defense that couldn’t guard him as effectively as some of Oklahoma’s recent foes. The Bears didn’t do as good a job denying him the ball or trapping him to force him to pass as Kansas State, West Virginia and Alabama have done.
With guard Christian James out with the flu and forward Jamuni McNeace playing limited minutes as a result of an ankle injury, Oklahoma needed every point Young could muster. He was brilliant, yet the Sooners only slipped by a Baylor team that has faded from NCAA tournament contention during Big 12 play.
The takeaway is that Oklahoma will need Young to carry it some nights as it tries to stay in contention for the Big 12 title and make a deep run in March.
No player in the nation carries a bigger burden than Young does on his thin shoulders. Oklahoma has to turn him loose, let him be aggressive and live with the consequences.
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