Sooners preparing for stretch run

OU is sitting pretty heading into its last five regular season games, but the Sooners still have a lot work to do to put itself in better position.

By now it's no secret that every Big 12 game is a grind. It's all the players and coaches have talked about. But Oklahoma gets to relax a little bit. The grind won't begin once again until Saturday when Kansas State comes to Norman.

The Wildcats defeated OU in a tough battle in Manhattan, Kan., last month. OU stands at 19-7 overall and 8-5 in the conference with five games left until the Big 12 tournament.

A strong finish in Bedlam has allowed OU to go into this rest week on a good note. Had OU lost at Oklahoma State, the Sooners would enter this pivotal five-game period losers of four of their last five games.

Now, however, OU still stands in third place in the conference with three of its final five games at Lloyd Noble Center. OU coach Lon Kruger said they're right where they want to be.

Maybe the team is faring well, but it's not all sunshine for some of the players. In conference play, only sophomore guard Buddy Hield and senior forward Tyler Neal are averaging more points per game in conference than what they are overall.

Hield has gone from a quality No. 2 option to becoming the go-to guy for the Sooners. When he's off like he was last week vs. Texas Tech, OU didn't have the answers.

When he's on like in Bedlam with two crucial three-pointers in the final two minutes, you see why he means so much to the team. Hield isn't afraid of the moment.

He is averaging 16.7 points per game overall but 17.5 per contest in conference play. In contrast, senior forward Cameron Clark is three points below his season average in conference action.

This stretch run will also be a test for freshman guard Jordan Woodard. He has done a great job of running the team, but opponents are starting to figure him out.

Woodard is far and away the team leader with 68 free throws in 13 conference games. But he only has seven attempts in the last three games. He has gone from averaging six per contest to just more than two here lately. Teams are starting to let Woodard penetrate into the lane but then guard him without fouling him.

Barring a total collapse, OU is pretty safely in the NCAA tournament. The Sooners are an impressive 4-3 on the road in conference play and have won eight road or neutral site games this season.

OU hit the wall the last couple of weeks. A few days to recharge the batteries should do the team well, starting this weekend.

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