Oklahoma enters into this matchup against the Tigers looking to avoid something that has not happened since Lon Kruger's second season with the Sooners: A 3-game losing streak. After losing by a combined eight points in the last two matchups, OU travels to Connecticut to take on a 2-loss Auburn team. This is the last game before Big 12 play, and Oklahoma is in desperate need of a win before entering into a very difficult 5-game stretch. This game is the "Birthday of Basketball" contest, and Kruger wants to have his cake and eat it too. Here's all you need to know. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. CT.
How to Watch
This contest is televised on CBS Sports Network, along with being played on "The Franchise" on the radio. Turn your dials to 107.7 FM if you cannot get near a television and live in the Oklahoma City area. This will also be the destination of the game thread, which you can express your opinions in the comments below with fellow Sooner fans. You can access the live stream here.
When discussing x-factors to a game, free throws rarely are brought up. However, considering the circumstances that OU currently finds itself in, this could be a very dangerous area for the Sooners in this matchup. Against Memphis, Oklahoma sent the Tigers to the line an incredible amount. Memphis finished the game 28-32 from the free-throw line, and iced the game down the stretch with some clutch free-throw shooting. Could this happen again? It is very possible.
The Tigers are very familiar with the free-throw line this season. In fact, they are 10th in the country in free-throw attempts per game, shooting on average 27.4 attempts per game. Not only that, but they are 20th in the country in free throws made per game, making 18.9 free throws per contest. This does not bode well for the foul-happy Sooners who are 168th in the country for personal fouls per game, fouling their opponents 19.3 times per game. OU is also 130th in the country for opponent free-throw attempts per game, with their opponents shooting 19.2 free throws per contest. However, Oklahoma barely edges out Auburn in free-throw shooting percentage. Despite shooting about four less free throws per game, OU is shooting about 1 percent better from the charity stripe (70.6 percent). These free points earned at the line might make or break the game for the Sooners. Oklahoma needs to limit their fouls and keep their star players in the matchup to walk away with a win.
Shoot the Lights Out
On this "Birthday of Basketball", whoever can shoot the lights out of the candles will be the victor. Both of these teams have the deep-ball threat to do it too. Auburn has been letting the ball fly from downtown, and are currently 15th in the country for 3-point attempts per game (27.1). However, Oklahoma is much more efficient from the 3-point line. Although the Sooners are only shooting 19.5 3-pointers per game, they are also 15th in the country for 3-point shooting percentage (41 percent). Most of this is due to the continued great shooting performances from Christian James. James is tied for 36th in the country for 3-point shooting percentage, making 55.6 percent of his 3-pointers. However, James has found himself watching from the sidelines down the stretch of very close games, and has fouled out in three of the four Oklahoma losses. OU needs James in these crucial minutes, as he is one of the main leaders of this squad. He is also the only player on the court tonight that is in the top 99 for 3-point shooting percentage.
Who to Watch
If you like watching a single player take over a game and put on a one-man show then this may not be a game you want to watch. This is mostly due to the scheme used by both coaches so far this season. Impressively, Auburn has 10 players averaging double-digit minutes while the Sooners have 11 players playing at least 10 minutes a game. Look for both coaches to go to their benches early and often, which adds much more anticipation considering the contributions from each team could be vast.
However, there are key players that can take over a game and will play a huge part in who walks home with the win. For the Sooners, Jordan Woodard is the man. He is currently leading the team in three different categories: Points (17.6 ppg), assists (3.6 apg) and steals (2.1 spg). He has been by far the most consistent player on this team, and will need to assemble yet another all-around good game to give OU its best chance. James is the next best player on this team, putting together 12.6 ppg and 4.6 rpg. This duo will need to beat the duo from Auburn in order to go home with a victory.
The duo from the Tigers that the Sooners need to keep their eye on is Danjel Purifoy and Mustapha Heron. Both of these players are averaging 16 points per game, with at least five rebounds. Heron, the 6'5" guard, and Purifoy, the 6'7" forward, will be the biggest concern going into this game for Oklahoma. Slowing down these two should be a top priority for Kruger and his squad.
With a 3-game losing streak on the line, a must-win situation is an understatement for OU. This will be the back-breaker or the season-maker of this young squad. With a loss, Oklahoma would be just .500 on the season, and going into treacherous waters entering the Big 12 conference regular season. The implications of this game are significant, and this one will not be easy. Expect a close, hard-fought, sloppy game tonight. 50/50 balls will be crucial and the Sooners will need to be scrappy and energized to propel themselves to a win.
Oklahoma 86 Auburn 82