OU goes through final prep

Sooners set for first-round matchup against No. 14 Albany after week of practice

Oklahoma came into last year’s NCAA Tournament confident, riding a string of what forward Ryan Spangler called “good practices.”

Good practice didn’t matter as the Sooners were bounced by No. 12 North Dakota State.

Again, Spangler feels really good about the way practices have gone in the last week for Oklahoma, which hit the court twice Thursday.

The Sooners are a year older, so that helps, but Spangler seemed to have a better grip on exactly what a good practice was this time around – just 24 hours from Oklahoma’s first-round game against No. 14 Albany.

“We’ve come together as a team,” Spangler said. “We’ve had good practices all year, but we haven’t played defense the way we wanted to or maybe not moved the ball.”

The difference between good and great is what Spangler said the Sooners have done during the past week.

Ball movement is quick, and Oklahoma is getting wide open looks against the scout team.

Last year’s upset loss has been on Oklahoma’s mind for much of the week.

“We’ve been thinking about it,” Spangler said. “That’s why we’ve had pretty good practices the last three days. We don’t want that to happen to us again. Our goal is to come out on fire and give it all the energy we have.”

Oklahoma’s second session of the day was visibly loose. Smiles and laughs were nearly as big a part as getting up shots. The Sooners went through no strict, last-minute preparation at the open practice inside the cavernous Nationwide Arena.

There was a level of focus but with a casual feel.

“I know our guys definitely respect Albany and how good they’ve been in their culture of winning and three championships in a row. So it shouldn’t be a problem,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “Our guys have practiced well all week in preparation.”

Here are three major factors in Friday night’s game:

READY FOR A LATE TEST: Early in the season, Oklahoma couldn’t catch a break late in games – mainly because it couldn’t put itself in good positions.

Except for the loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 Conference Tournament semifinals, Oklahoma had won five of its final six games. Four of those games were decided by less than seven points.

“As a team, you just get tired of losing those close games,” Oklahoma point guard Jordan Woodard said. “Everybody’s talking that we can’t finish games. That stuff gets to you. You have to change it up. You can’t just go along with it. You learn. It’s a learning experience.”

Through the first six games of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, five games were decided in the final minutes, four were within four points and three games finished with the narrowest of margins – one point.

“Our focus has been sharp this whole week: Knowing that teams are going to give you their best shot,” Woodard said. “It’s the NCAA Tournament. They’re not trying to lose, just like we’re no trying to lose. You can’t take these chances for granted.”

CONFIDENT SCORING: Coming into the game by far the more athletic and balanced team, it will be on the Sooners to make sure they don’t lose that confidence – especially in front of a crowd that likely will be pro-Albany.

“Any time you have a team full of people – the whole five can score – we’re confident,” Thomas said. “Of course, we’re confident with that. It just gives you the chance not to depend on one or two people on the court.

“When you need a bucket you can always look at somebody else and just see who has the opening right there.”

Where Oklahoma (22-10) has five players averaging at least nine points, Albany (24-8), which has won just one NCAA Tournament game in program history, has four. It’s Oklahoma ability to score at will that gives the Sooners the advantage, though.

“Any of our guys can score at any time,” Spangler said. “. . . That’s our goal on offense is to get everybody touches and get the best shots possible – no matter who takes the shots.”

PUSHING THE PACE: A battle of tempos will shake itself out Friday. Oklahoma wants to run. Albany wants to walk.

Still, the Great Danes average 66 points per game, just five less than the Sooners.

“We want to get out and run,” Spangler said. “So, we know it’s going to be important for us to start out early and try to set the tempo for ourselves.”

This week, Spangler said that setting the tempo starts on the defensive end, getting good effort to force bad shots and give the Sooners a chance to run.


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