OU's pieces aren't fitting

Sooners have to complete puzzle during softer part of schedule

WACO, Texas – There are some instances when the sum of parts is actually greater than the whole.

Oklahoma has all the pieces: The top scorer in the conference, the best 3-point shooter, the No. 2 rebounder, the second-best assist man and the runner-up in field goal percentage.

Each is a different player.

Yet, the Sooners have lost four of their past five games, including three that they could have won – with a little bit more late-game toughness.

The problem for No. 19 Oklahoma (12-7, 3-4 Big 12) is that it hasn’t been whole very often. The Sooners looked great against Texas, when all the cylinders were firing in a 21-point rout of their Red River rival. That’s the only time this season when everything has gone right.

“As a team, we understand where we're at,” said Oklahoma point guard Jordan Woodard, who was second in the Big 12 in assists per game before Saturday’s eight-point loss to Baylor. “We don't like where we're at – at all. It's going to make us hungrier for the next game.”

Oklahoma forward TaShawn Thomas, who was ranked second in the Big 12 in field goal percentage before Saturday’s game, has disappeared for four games – struggling to a 5-for-19 performance and less than a 6-point per game average.

Buddy Hield’s Big 12-leading scoring average took a hit with his lowest output of the Big 12 season, and Isaiah Cousins – the most accurate 3-point shooter in the conference – has finished in single digits in scoring three times in the first seven league games for Oklahoma. All three were losses.

“We've got to step up as a team and play more together,” Woodard said.

Oklahoma, which might lose Cousins for additional games because of a right wrist injury, now faces its weakest section of the schedule. Although with the way the Big 12 has been playing, there might not be a ‘lighter’ part of the schedule.

Of the Sooners’ next nine games, all are winnable. They’ll face TCU and Texas Tech twice each – both of which have a combined two victories in 13 conference games. The only other road games will be against Oklahoma State and Kansas State.

The Sooners have lost three of their four road games this season. In order to pick up another one or two before closing the season with games against Iowa State and Kansas, Oklahoma will have to play like it did early in the second half.

Cousins knocked down an early 3-pointer before missing the final 15 minutes of the game. Instead of trying to shoot Baylor out of its zone, the Sooners went inside to Thomas.

Oklahoma shot 30.6 percent in the first half and trailed by nine points with less than two minutes left to play. Thomas finished inside twice, and Hield opened the second half with a dunk as Oklahoma, which lost to Baylor for the first time in almost three years, rallied back.

“We were getting the ball into some seams and some gaps and had decent looks at it,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “A couple of them were maybe not as good as we would like. I thought ball movement and taking care of the ball wasn’t bad. It always comes down to making a few shots against that zone.”

Less than eight minutes into the second half, Oklahoma tied the game. The Sooners missed five jump shots, including three missed 3-pointers that allowed Baylor to extend its lead.

When in trouble, Oklahoma continues to lean on its former identity – a fast-paced, jump-shooting team. It isn’t that anymore, and the Sooners will have to realize that in order to not make this next stretch a season-ending one.

They just have to realize the obvious answer, even one that was blatant in another late loss.

“Coach made it a focal point to get the ball inside,” Woodard said. “I feel like it was open. We got it there and in the second half we got some easy points but we came up short at the end.”

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