MU’s Dru Smith, OU’s Reaves draw similarities ahead of Saturday’s contest

Georgia’s Justin Kier (5) tries to get past Missouri’s Javon Pickett (4) and Dru Smith (12) in the first half of a game in the Southeastern Conference Tournament on March 11 in Nashville, Tenn. Missouri and Dru Smith take on Austin Reaves and Oklahoma on Saturday in the NCAA Tournament.

Tyler Hollins

While there are plenty of fascinating storylines heading into Missouri’s matchup with Oklahoma on Saturday in the NCAA Tournament, none are as interesting as the guard matchup between Missouri’s Dru Smith and Oklahoma’s Austin Reaves.

Reaves is the engine that makes the Sooners go. In important late-game situations, the ball rarely leaves Reaves’ hands. He leads Oklahoma in scoring (17.7), rebounds (5.7) and assists per game (4.7).

“I think he just understands how to play the game,” Dru Smith said. “He plays at his own pace. He does a great job of getting fouled. He scores at all three levels. It’ll definitely be a good matchup.”

Smith wasn’t too shabby this season either, mirroring Reaves’ impact. A three-time SEC Player of the Week this season, Smith is averaging 14.1 points, 3.5 boards, 3.9 assists and 2.0 steals. As Smith has become more aggressive on offense, he has earned Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin’s trust to go to him late in games, most notably against Florida on March 3, when he hit Missouri’s game-winning shot.

“I just think he was playing basketball, doing the things asked of him, but he wasn’t very aggressive, so we certainly had a talk with him,” Martin said. “It was not necessarily coming into the gym, doing more of this or that, it was just being assertive.”

Smith and Reaves are catalysts for their teams and a main reason why their schools are in the NCAA Tournament, something that would’ve been hard to believe just a few years ago.

Neither Reaves nor Smith were heavily recruited out of high school . Reaves was viewed as just a sharpshooter, while Smith’s lack of lateral quickness had some wondering whether his game could translate to the Southeastern Conference.

Both proved those preconceptions wrong and have evolved into leaders on Power-5 teams in the NCAA Tournament.

“We do a lot of the same things and, I believe, that we really just try to contribute to the team to help us get a win,” Reaves said.

Saturday’s game won’t be the first time these two have been matched up against each other. In 2017, Smith, who was at Evansville, faced off against Reaves, who was at Wichita State, in a Missouri Valley Conference game. Smith’s Purple Aces came out on top and he finished with four points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Reaves played 15 minutes and didn’t score.

“(We’ve) grown a lot,” Reaves said. “He made the transition to transfer to Mizzou and I transferred as well. There’s a lot of similarities in there … His growth since then has been really special to watch.”

Saturday’s game looks to be an even matchup between two teams that used to be conference foes led by two players who used to be conference foes.. Not many players have been able to limit Reaves this year, but if anyone can, it would be Smith, who garnered an SEC All-Defensive Team selection this season.

The one-on-one matchup might just decide which team moves on to the Round of 32.

“Oftentimes, it falls on the quarterback in football,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “It falls on the point guard in basketball.”