Full-court press: Texas

Red River Rivalry heats up on the hard court between two highly ranked teams

Sooners Illustrated will present three things to watch before every men’s basketball game during the 2014-15 season.

No. 18 Oklahoma (10-3, 1-0 Big 12) at No. 11 Texas (12-2, 1-0)

When: 8:05 p.m. CST

TV/Radio: ESPN/107.7 FM(OKC); 1430 AM (Tulsa)

Series: Oklahoma, 50-35

Coming together on the offensive end

The Sooners, who likely will crack the top 15 Monday afternoon, became one of the top teams in the country behind the strength of their defense, which is allowing less than 60 points per game.

However, against Baylor – one of the top defensive teams in the nation – Oklahoma found a way to win with its offense as well.

Baylor allowed more than 66 points for the first time all season during the Sooners’ 73-63 victory, and Oklahoma committed just nine turnovers – the fourth time in the past five games that the Sooners have finished with less than 10. Oklahoma had just two turnovers in the first half.

“We moved the ball pretty well,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “I thought guys did a good job of getting the ball to each other in the right spots. Timing was good.”

Baylor, which came into the game with just one loss, had posted a 26.8 percent 3-point defense and a 37.4 percent field goal defense during the non-conference season. Oklahoma shot 40.7 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from behind the arc, all while not losing anything defensively – holding the Bears to just 29 percent from the field in the second half.

Oklahoma has won three straight against Texas, which has won eight of the past nine games in the rivalry at the Erwin Center.

Texas won’t be a step down from Baylor’s disruptive zone defense. The Longhorns, who also play predominantly zone defense, rank third nationally in field goal defense (33.7 percent) and rank third in the Big 12 with a 28.9-percent 3-point defense.

Not afraid of Texas’ size

All season long, Oklahoma’s three perimeter defenders have switched off of every screen. It’s two post players do the same.

Even with the Longhorns’ size advantage, nothing will change Monday night. “We’ll do the same thing,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “It’s a tough matchup. . . . We’ll do what we do.”

True freshman forward Myles Turner, who is averaging 11.7 points and a team-high seven rebounds per game, is 6-foot-11. Center Cameron Ridley is 6-foot-9 and win Jonathan Holmes is 6-foot-8.

The three each weigh at least 240 pounds.

Kruger said earlier this season that if switching gives Oklahoma an unfavorable matchup and they are hurt by it, they’ll try something different. At some point Monday night, Oklahoma’s 6-foot point guard Jordan Woodard could find himself matched up against Holmes.

“It’s just not letting them hit us early,” Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler said. “If they get us on their back, it’ll be a long day – just use our quickness, get around them and deflect some balls.”

Spangler also said that Oklahoma can’t worry about having their shots blocked and still has to execute its offense by getting the Texas bigs away from the basket.

‘We want to be champions’

Moments after Oklahoma’s victory against Baylor in the Big 12 Conference opener for the Sooners, guard Buddy Hield’s message was clear.

“We want to be champions,” he said.

To be fair, he was asked whether the team cares about winning the conference championship.

“That’s in every team’s head in the Big 12,” he said. “Everybody wants to be a champion, but there can only be one champion. . . . That’s our goal. I’m sure coach Kruger is thinking that, too. We are just going to keep fighting and taking it one game at a time.”

Kruger did echo that sentiment.

“Every team in the country wants to win the championship,” Kruger said. “ . . . The level of play is so high in the Big 12 right now that if you don’t get better, you’re gonna be struggling to get in that top division. It’s not easy. There are good teams that aren’t in the top division. In the end, we have to get better and I think our guys understand that.”

When asked after the game if Oklahoma was the best team the Bears had played, Baylor forward Taurean Prince almost laughed it off.

“Yeah, it’s Big 12,” he said.

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