Full-court press: Iowa State

Sooners, Cyclones square off for the second time this season

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

No. 15 Oklahoma (20-8, 11-5) at No. 17 Iowa State (20-8, 10-8)

When: 8:05 p.m. CST

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

Series: Oklahoma, 113-82

Playing at a whirlwind pace

The Cyclones raced out quickly to start the first matchup between the two teams.

Oklahoma eventually figured it out, settled its offense down and stopped the Iowa State’s fast-break. Oklahoma slowed Iowa State’s quick transition from defense to offense and found a way to deny the Cyclones’ drive-and-kick offense. The Sooners worked on it even more in practice Sunday just before traveling north.

“It surprised us how quickly they got the ball out of the backcourt in the first half against us here,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “Then, we got adjusted to it and did a better job in the second half.”

In the final drills Sunday, Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield yelled to his teammates from the sideline as the scout team ran a breakout play after a missed shot. He wanted his teammates to pick up Austin Mankin, who was most likely simulating Naz Long, the Cyclones’ top 3-point shooter who knocked four against Oklahoma in the first meeting.

“Having gone through it once, it’s not us talking to the guys about it,” Kruger said. “They’re saying, ‘Hey, remember how quickly they got the ball back at us. We’ve got to be more ready.’ When the players are saying that to each other rather than the coaches, there’s probably a little more of an understanding on their part.”

Alone in second place in the Big 12, Oklahoma, which is just one win away from setting a new school record for single-season victories against top 25 opponents, has allowed just four fast-break points during its past three games, including a shutout of Texas.

Six Cyclones average in double figures, the highest number in the nation for a team. It’s difficult to deal with that kind of balance, but it starts by slowing down Iowa State in the open court.

Hield on the boards

Kruger joked after Oklahoma’s victory against TCU that it’s not uncommon for Hield and Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler to combine for 14 rebounds in a game.

“That happens a lot, but usually not in that direction,” Kruger said with a smile.

Hield finished with a career-high 13 rebounds, a growing trend for the junior who continues to impact the Sooners in every statistical category. In the past seven games, Hield has pulled down at least four rebounds on four separate occasions, including a 10-rebound game against TCU and Saturday’s big haul.

“Ryan was upset about that, taking all of his boards,” Hield said. “It was good. We did a lot of box-out drills this whole break, rebounding the ball. It paid off (Saturday).”

Handling the pressure

After losing four of five games early in the Big 12 season, it’s strangely up to the Sooners now to finally end Kansas’ run of dominance in the conference.

The Sooners are right back in the chase for a top seed in the Big 12 Conference and the NCAA Tournament, which might start with a trip to nearby Omaha instead of a long trip to either coast or the Iron Belt.

“In the Big 12 if you’re going to stay in the race, it’s gonna be tough,” Kruger said. “It’s been tough all the way through. We’ve talked from January 1 about getting better. Regardless of whether we win a game or lose a game we have to improve. We have to improve in practice and continue to work at it.

“Hopefully, that contributes to some good results in the last month of February. The next one is tough and our guys will approach that one just like they have the last few."

There isn’t a team that is playing better than Oklahoma, right now. The Sooners have won eight of their last nine games but still understand what is at stake through the final week of the season, starting with Iowa State – losers of two straight games.

“We know what they’re capable of doing,” Hield said. “It’s gonna be a big game on Monday. We want that game badly and need that game badly. We’re expecting to win up there.”


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