OU's late-game success will help in tourney

Sooners have found a way to win at the end of tight games

Ahead by just three points Saturday afternoon, Oklahoma point guard Jordan Woodard stepped over half court for what would be a huge possession for the Sooners with just a minute to play against TCU.

Woodard was calm as he took a quick glance at the defense, ready for one of the bigger offensive possessions of the game. That serenity was gone with a quick timeout by coach Lon Kruger, who is not known for using his timeouts early.

The plays that Kruger draws up don’t always work, but in the past three games, Oklahoma has found more success late in games. In the final minutes against Texas, Texas Tech and TCU, the Sooners kept the ball in Woodard’s hands or found forward TaShawn Thomas inside. Kruger’s timeouts have helped, too.

When the Sooners’ broke the huddle late against TCU, Woodard was fouled going to the basket, and the Sooners knocked down four free throws in the final minutes to secure the win.

“We have guys like TaShawn who you can throw the ball to and he can get a bucket,” Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield said. “Jordan was doing a good job of attacking the paint and drawing fouls, helping us to close the game out. Coach is doing a good job with that. It’s good for us. Come down to tournament play and we should be good. We should know how to handle it.”

Against Iowa State, there was no need for late-game pressure. Oklahoma’s mid-game collapse left that out of the question. There will be a bounce-back period, but Oklahoma can lean on its success late in games and the confidence it built when there wasn’t a major wave of momentum bearing down on them.

In the three previous games, Thomas and Woodard combined for 21 of Oklahoma’s 28 points scored in the final three minutes of regulation.

“It depends on how the game is going. It depends on the matchup,” Kruger said of finding a late-game scorer. “It depends on who has a little advantage. Every game is a little bit different. You think about the plays that Jordan has made on occasion in late games or Isaiah. They’ve all done it. That’s kind of the neat part about this team. You’ve got a lot of options.

“You kind of pick and choose the matchups that you want.”

Woodard said the late-game success has been a little bit about execution, a little bit about confidence and a little bit about knowing just how important each possession is and how big each win can be at this point in the season.

“It’s just us as a collective unit knowing that we have to win these games,” he said. “You can’t let any games drop, whether on the road or at home. We just had to focus and execute.”

Oklahoma has won eight of its last nine games, but before that, the Sooners lost four of five. During that stretch, the worst of Oklahoma’s late-game issues were apparent.

The Sooners couldn’t get stops on the defensive end but did nothing to help themselves on the offense end either – settling for bad rotation and minimal opportunities for a good shot.

Kruger, who doesn’t like to call many timeouts to settle his veteran players, wasn’t using timeouts late then the same way he is now. Usually, Kruger likes to let his players work their way out of struggles.

While there haven’t been any problems late in games recently, Kruger has used his timeouts more to make sure the Sooners don’t fall into any traps and make good use of the biggest possessions.

“It depends on the flow,” Kruger said. “There are moments there at that two- or three-minute mark that you can get the four-point cushion rather than a four-point deficit, it’s a big difference. It varies.”

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