OU focuses on defensive end

Sooners understand season's success depends on play without the ball

It’s strange to think that Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield lacks confidence.

The man oozes swagger with a gigantic smile.

There’s one place, though, where Hield’s self-assurance is still lacking. On the defensive end, he’s wasn’t quite himself last season.

This year, he and the rest of the Oklahoma roster are re-dedicating themselves to the defensive end of the court, knowing that its play there is more pivotal toward the success of the season.

“Our defense has picked it up a lot,” Hield said. “. . . I feel like our defense took over a little more, and we are a little more focused on defense. As long as we get stops, we know we can score.”

Hield said the team is watching film together with coaches and developing a level of competitiveness in practice the Sooners hope translates to the court.

Oklahoma works on its offense, which averaged more than 80 points per game, for only about 30 minutes per practice. The rest of the time trying to improve a defense that allowed almost as many points as the offense scored.

“Everybody’s mindset is different. Everybody comes in ready to work,” Hield said. “. . . Everybody is much more focused.”

The dedication to defense starts with the Sooners’ leaders. Hield’s confidence, Ryan Spangler’s work ethic, and Isaiah Cousins’ length will all play a key role in changing the Sooners’ perception on defense.

Hield can find confidence on offense, where he is one of the better scorers in the country. If he and Oklahoma can have a swagger about them on the defensive end, things will change in a hurry.

“Last year, there were just too many things running through my head,” Hield said. “ . . . I feel like I have more confidence and mental focus in my head now. I’m ready to get after it on defense and prove to everybody that I can guard people like I did my freshman year.”

Here’s a quick look at the Sooners’ three major units:

Starting guards: The Sooners backcourt was by far its strongest offensive unit, and yet again, the trio of Hield, Cousins and point guard Jordan Woodard will be leaned on to produce points and ignite the Oklahoma offense.

All three return as starters for the second straight season looking to make a major jump: Woodard in his second year at point guard, Cousins in his second season as a starter and Hield in his first season as a complete player – one almost ready for the NBA.

The trio, which averaged more than 42 points per game, will have to replace the offensive production of departed forward Cameron Clark.

Starting forwards: Spangler brings something every coach would want – a relentless work ethic and a rebounding tenacity that’s unmatched. Oklahoma still needs to develop behind him.

D.J. Bennett will be the starter, but should transfer TaShawn Thomas earn immediate eligibility, Kruger will have a perfect big man to pair with Spangler. Thomas can go inside and get a basket. There isn’t really another big on the Sooners’ roster with that kind elite offensive ability.

Bench: Based on the exhibition season, freshman forward Khadeem Lattin won’t have to wait long to come off the bench if Bennett is the starter. He checked in to the game less than two minutes in to the Sooners second exhibition game, after Bennett picked up a foul.

In the backcourt, transfer Dinjiyl Walker and Frank Booker round out the Sooners’ rotation. Forward Austin Mankin could see time as a big wing, but Oklahoma likely will be held to just an eight-man rotation. That’s much less depth than the Sooners hoped for with Thomas and Dante Buford, who will miss the season because of eligibility.

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