After a tough non-conference schedule, the Oklahoma Sooners returned home to host the Baylor Bears in the conference opener. As the two ranked teams clashed on the hardwood, Lon Kruger and his squad secured a 73-63 win in Norman. Although Oklahoma has one game behind them, the road doesn't get any easier with Texas and Kansas St. on the horizon.
"It was a good way to open conference play. I thought it was really played at a high level. I thought both teams in the first half had what they wanted offensively and I thought both did a better job defensively in the second half. I thought Baylor played well" Lon Kruger said. "They're good. I thought our guys played as well as they have. We had a combined effort offensively in the first half. Defensively in the second half I thought we really did a better job. We made a lot of good plays for each other, played with pretty good composure, and made plays when we needed to. It was a good win. Good win."
Much of the recent success can be attributed to an concerted effort to work the ball inside. At the beginning of the season, it was clear that the Sooners relied heavily upon the play of junior guards, Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins to carry them to victory. With one proven post player, Lon Kruger hoped for the best from the NCAA regarding a recent transfer. However, play continued to be dictated by the guards...that was until the trip to the Bahamas. Away on a "vacation" things finally clicked and a balanced attack was born.
"Yeah, I think the group as a whole since the Bahamas has done a much better job of playing inside out, valuing possessions much better," stated Kruger, "moving the ball better. They like passing the ball to each other and as a result they are shooting the ball for a much better percentage in the last five or six ballgames."
The effort to work the ball inside produced another stellar performance for TaShawn Thomas who poured in 24 points to go alongside eight rebounds against Baylor. As the defense keys into the post, it then leaves perimeter shooters with an open look on the kick out. That's precisely what transpired as Hield and Cousins combined for 24 points from behind the arc.
Buddy recorded a 20 point 10 rebound game while Cousins added another 19 points en route to a 10th win on the season.
On the other side of things, Taurean Prince continued shooting lights out from beyond the arc. Connecting on 4-of-8 attempts the junior scored 17 points off the bench for the Bears. Knowing the Sooners are excellent on the glass, Rico Gathers had his work cut out for him. The forward proved to be up to the challenge pulled down 12 boards including six on the offensive side of the court. Leading the way though for Baylor was none other than talented freshman, Johnathan Motley with 24 points.
Baylor who had allowed just 55 points per contest before Saturday saw that number eclipsed in a hurry. Needless to say, both teams must move forward and focus on the next opponent.
Moving into the meat of the schedule, Oklahoma must continue to play an inside out game as the length of a few teams in the Big XII can cause the Sooners to struggle. It's no secret that both Thomas and Ryan Spangler keep their heads up and possess the ability pass the ball after receiving the entry pass. From there, those two must trust the guards to knock down wide open looks from three point land.
In addition, the work Jordan Woodard has put in to limit turnovers continues to show on the court. In 40 minutes of play, Oklahoma turned the ball over a mere nine times against a top twenty-five opponent. By limiting turnovers, a program in turn limits the number of fast break points and obviously points off turnovers. On Saturday, Oklahoma surrendered two fast break points and five total points off turnovers.
Finally, the Sooners defense must continue to clamp down much like the display they put on in the second half of the game against Baylor. Yet, OU must be smart on defense as well. Why? Sending a player to the charity stripe is not ideal as it could land a key cog to the machine on the bench while giving up free points.