Scouting the Sooners

Are Big 12 teams still taking the Buffs lightly as we get into the meat of the conference schedule?

GETTING INSIDE

The schedule taketh away and the schedule giveth. Right now, it's doing the Sooners a favor.

After beginning the conference season with three losses, the schedule delivered also winless-in-conference Texas Tech to Lloyd Noble Center. Now that Oklahoma has taken care of the Red Raiders 84-73, it would appear to have another winnable game coming up next against surprising Colorado, which took its first conference loss at Nebraska on Tuesday.

If the Sooners can somehow win that game, they'll get to revise their goals in the conference. They would be 2-3 in league play with games coming up at Iowa State, followed by a home game with recently slipping Baylor. It isn't crazy to think OU might get to 3-4 in the conference through seven games, which would be one, two or three more conference wins than many thought they'd claim this season.

To become an overachieving team, OU will have to repeat much of what it did to claim its first conference victory, when it placed five players in double figures, worked to force 20 Red Raider turnovers, while getting to the foul line 34 times, making 29.

One place the Sooners could stand to improve is bench production. Another is ball security. Though they received 20 turnovers from Texas Tech, the Sooners gave the ball away 17 times. Also, the length of their bench only played 26 minutes. The Sooners may not be very deep, but it will be hard to stay fresh with starters playing almost 35 minutes a game.

Of course, OU's in a much better spot now than it was a day ago.

"It is good to win. We can't do anything about the past. We don't concentrate on last year or this past Saturday," Sooner coach Jeff Capel said. "Our focus is right now and what we have to do right now."

BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: On a top 10 team, OU senior guard Cade Davis might be a sixth man or, were he a starter, he would still be one of those "energy" players coaches love to have set the tone on the floor. One thing Davis would not be is the clear team leader and, very possibly, the Sooners' best player. But that's his lot, and his career-high tying 25 points, including 4 of 8 accuracy from 3-point land, in the Sooners' first conference victory after 11 straight regular-season conference losses is a very good sign going forward.

NOTES, QUOTES

--It's uncanny, but amidst what many believe to be the worst basketball season since Billy Tubbs' first year in Norman -- 1980-81, when the Sooners went 9-18 -- OU is nonetheless having a very good season shooting the basketball. Against Texas Tech, OU made 56 percent of its second-half shots and shot 48 percent (24 of 50) from the field. The Sooners are shooting 46.3 percent from the floor this season. The problem remains defense, where OU's opponent shooting percentage of 44.3 percent ranks 11th in the Big 12. Tuesday night against Tech was a step in the right direction -- the Red Raiders shot 39 percent (23 of 59).

--The Sooners remain a very good team at home. They've lost only once this season at Lloyd Noble Center (to Texas A&M), and Tuesday's victory over Texas Tech made it 40 wins in 41 tries against unranked opponents at home. Some believed OU might go winless in the conference this year. If the Sooners can maintain something close to their recent history on their home court, even with a sub-.500 conference record, they will have seemingly overachieved.

--Oklahoma shot 46 percent of better from the field in seven of 10 games prior to a Jan. 15 trip to Texas. However, the Sooners went just 20 of 51 in the 66-46 setback, a 39.2 percent clip. They missed all eight of their 3-point attempts in the second half and were 1 of 15 for the game.

--Guarding the arc was also a challenge against Texas. The Longhorns made 7 of 12 shots from behind the arc, including a 5-for-8 performance from G Jordan Hamilton. Two makes by Hamilton from that distance within the first two minutes of the second half enabled Texas to establish control.

BY THE NUMBERS: 75 -- Rebounds for Oklahoma during its 0-3 Big 12 start. The 25.0 average was actually buoyed in a Jan. 15 loss at Texas, when the Sooners were outrebounded by just a 33-32 margin.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We don't have anything that's going to put 15 pounds on us. We can't grow overnight. We are what we are. We've got to make do with it." -- F Nick Thompson, who stands 6-9 and weighs 208 pounds, discussing the size disadvantage Oklahoma often faces.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME:

--vs. Colorado, Jan. 22.

KEY MATCHUPS: With an up-tempo style instilled by first-year coach Tad Boyle, the Buffaloes are one of the bigger surprises in the Big 12. G Alec Burks is following up on a surprisingly strong freshman season, while G Cory Higgins is a wise senior capable of big nights. Fouling is not an option because Colorado shoots free throws as well as any Big 12 team.

FUTURES MARKET: There's not much the Sooners can do except grow from their mistakes. This is a good shooting team capable of staying in games as long as it patiently knocks down open looks. However, when shots aren't falling, trouble lurks. The young squad tends to get discouraged when shooting poorly, but must learn not to back off on defensive intensity. That can be difficult, especially when losses mount.

PLAYER NOTES

--Sophomore forward Andrew Fitzgerald, the Sooners' none-too-athletic man in the middle, has managed to turn himself into a solid offensive player. Against Texas Tech, he finished with 20 points and five rebounds after going 7 of 12 from the floor and 6 for 6 from the free-throw line. He's scored in double figures 14 times this season, netted at least 20 four times and has hit more than half his shots from the floor in 13 of 18 games.

--Senior G Cade Davis missed a Jan. 11 loss at Baylor in order to be with his family following the death of his grandmother.

--Sophomore G Steven Pledger led Oklahoma with 17 points at Baylor on 6-for-12 shooting. He was then blanked at Texas while going 0-for-8.

--Sophomore G Carl Blair averaged 6.0 assists over an eight-game span before distributing just one assist against five turnovers at Texas. The Sooners were hurt by a 7-to-15 assist-to-turnover ratio against the Longhorns.


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