Austin Reaves sat and watched what might be the final 42 seconds of his college career from the bench.
The senior guard had just been subbed out of the game. Reaves looked up and saw the scoreboard at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, where the famous basketball movie “Hoosiers” was filmed.
Gonzaga would go on to the Sweet 16 by beating Oklahoma, 87-71, on Monday afternoon and the senior guard perhaps reflected on his college career at that moment. The kid with one Division I offer out of high school, who needed an eventual transfer to evolve into today’s stardom, ended his career at the same place where the small-town high school from Indiana defied all odds and won its state championship.
Similar to the storybook ending of the movie, Reaves, from Newark, a small-town in Arkansas with just over 1,000 people, held his own against Goliath, the No. 1 overall seeded team in the country.
“My career has been really good,” Reaves said after the game in a tone suggesting it was his last at OU (16-11, 9-8 Big 12). “Coming out of high school, nobody knew who I was and now I’ll say that people probably know who I am now.”
Reaves has the opportunity to return to Oklahoma next season with a one-time NCAA waiver that allows an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19. The 6-foot-5 point guard said he hasn’t decided on returning next season, saying he prefers to “stay in the moment.”
But OU coach Lon Kruger said professional teams are asking about Reaves a lot. He averaged 18.3 points per game this season, and led the Sooners in rebounding and assists, with 5.5 and 4.3, respectively. Reaves improved his field-goal percentage to over 44 percent, up from 38.1 percent last season, and ranked top-5 in the Big 12 in assists and points per game.
“I doubt that he comes back,” Reaves’ dad, Brian Reaves, told The Daily on his drive back from Indianapolis after the game.
Senior guard Alondes Williams scored 15 points and sophomore forward Jalen Hill tied his career-high with 11 points, against Gonzaga (27-0, 15-0 WCC). Senior forward Brady Manek hit the first shot of the game, a 3-pointer, but finished the game 0-for-7 with just three points.
If Reaves does forgo an extra year, his future in professional basketball is credited to his improvement in Norman. Reaves transferred from Wichita State after his sophomore year and went from a shooting specialist averaging 8.1 points per game in his last season with the Shockers, to being named to the All-Big 12 First Team in 2020-21.
“I think he had a good career,” Brian said. “He liked coach (Carlin) Hartman and coach Kruger and the style they liked to play, and it allowed him to show who he really was as a basketball player.”
Reaves added to his resume against Gonzaga, with 27 points on 11-for-17 shooting while helping Oklahoma to a 21-19 lead midway through the first half. He got to the basket with ease, with two and-1 layups as the Sooners’ built the lead. He made a few mid range jump shots and a 3-pointer, proving to NBA scouts he can score at all three levels.
HOLY FINISH!Austin Reaves in traffic, through contact, UP AND UNDER....oh, and he hit the freebie. pic.twitter.com/MEre5wTfgf— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 22, 2021
Although the Sooners were eventually bested by the national championship favorites, Reaves didn’t go down without a fight until his coach pulled him to the sideline.
“He left it all out there,” Kruger said. “That's what you want for each of your guys, and certainly he did that. … Just what a great year he had. He certainly left it all out there today.”
Reaves picked up his second foul on a charge call with 10:27 remaining in the first half, sending him to the bench. Gonzaga responded by taking the lead during the nearly six minutes he sat and never looked back.
Oklahoma lost six of its last eight games this season. The loss to Gonzaga was the only one by more than seven points. The late-season collapse included dropping from No. 7 in the AP Top 25 Poll to unranked five days before the tournament started.
Even during a season of uncertainty with the COVID-19 pandemic, Oklahoma made it an unforgettable year. From becoming the third team in NCAA history with four top-10 wins in a single month, to waking up at 7 a.m. for triweekly COVID-19 tests, the Sooners’ season was both strange and special. Reaves said he created unbreakable bonds with his teammates this season, on and off the court.
“So really, (it’s) just (about) cherishing those little moments, all the little things that came from this year, honestly,” Reaves said. “If it wasn’t for that, you may have not gotten those moments. … It was a different year.”
Reaves was once the kid no one knew about coming out of high school. Five years later, perhaps having played his final game as a Sooner, he’s turned himself into a sure-fire professional basketball player.
“What a terrific competitor,” Kruger said of Reaves. “He wants the ball in late-game situations, wants to be at the line in late-game situations. Just an outstanding career. He just got better and better from his redshirt year right through to the last ball game. He's worked at it, and he's earned it. He deserves it."