Texas coach Rick Barnes admitted Monday that he was the Sooners’ lone first-place vote. There was nothing he saw Monday night his Oklahoma’s 21-point victory against his Longhorns’ that made him think anything differently.
His players noticed it, too.
“They are a championship-caliber team,” Texas forward Jonathan Holmes said. “They're a good team. . . . They really punched us in the mouth.”
While No. 16 Oklahoma was in the process of putting together its first true road win against a top-10 team since 1993, Texas was tying its worst home loss under Barnes, who has been the Longhorns’ coach since 1998.
It all came on national television no less.
Oklahoma (11-3, 2-0) did it by learning from its previous losses.
Against Creighton, the Sooners blew a big second-half lead. Against Texas, the entire halftime mantra was: Remember Creighton. That Texas run never came.
Against Washington, the Huskies dominated the offensive glass early. Ryan Spangler and TaShawn Thomas came to the court at Erwin Center knowing they were in for a battle against and even bigger Texas squad, which had a +14 rebounding margin before the game. Oklahoma outrebounded the Longhorns by five, allowing just 11 offensive rebounds on 42 missed shots.
Against Wisconsin in the Bahamas, Oklahoma couldn’t take advantage of a poor shooting start by the Badgers. Against Texas, a 6-for-30 slump in the first half by the Longhorns turned into a 19-point lead that only extended in the second half.
“This club is totally different from what it was in the Bahamas or before,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “It’s a totally different focus, a totally different objective.”
In the first two Big 12 conference games, Oklahoma proved that its defense is for real while shattering the non-conference myths of its two opponents. Both Texas and Baylor came into the game sporting better defensive numbers.
The Sooners were the better defense by far once the game ended, holding both teams to a lower field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.
“I feel like we can’t go back to where we’ve been,” Oklahoma forward TaShawn Thomas said. “We’ve got to just get better from where we are now.” The Sooners have now held three of their last four opponents to less than 30 percent from the field.
Even the offense has been sharper, committing less than 10 turnovers for the fourth time in fifth games.
Oklahoma has learned from all is lessons of the past, but now, it has a new one.
“The human nature element, you’re always battling that,” Kruger said. “We’re off to a good start, but it means if we don’t get better the next three days and we haven’t done what we need to do. That’s our challenge.”
There are only four unbeaten teams left in the Big 12 Conference – Kansas hasn’t played a game. By the time, Oklahoma travels to Lawrence in less than two weeks, there will be only two unbeaten left.
It could be the Sooners and the team everybody has been chasing for 10 years.
The Big 12 is the top-rated RPI conference in the nation and posted the best non-conference winning percentage in the country. The general consensus is that this is the year Kansas’ reign ends in the Big 12, which has had seven of its 10 teams ranked at some point.
There are a couple teams that could end the Jayhawks’ run, but no team is following Kruger’s instruction on how to do that better than his own right now.
“I think there’s probably several teams in the league that do,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a battle every night. Teams that keep making progress are the ones that will be in good shape at the end.”