Oklahoma Sooners prepare for second straight Southland matchup

Hield sets two-game career mark to open the season but OU needs help at the free-throw line

Sooners Illustrated will present three things to watch before every men’s basketball game during the 2015-16 season.

Incarnate Word (2-1) at No. 7 Oklahoma (2-0)

When: 7 p.m.

TV/Radio: SSTV/107.7 FM

Series: Oklahoma, 0-0.

Buddy’s big first week

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield didn’t set out to prove that he deserved all his preseason accolades – Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year and two nods as a first-team All-American. All he wanted to do was be more efficient and put his months in the gym during the off-season on display.

The result thus far has been pretty good: 27 points per game in Oklahoma’s first two victories and shooting percentages of 60 (from 3-point land) and 56.3 (overall). Last year, Hield shot 41.2 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from behind the 3-point arc.

Hield’s 54-point combined total through two games is the highest back-to-back game total of his career.

“I’m just really locked in and focus,” said Hield, who arrives at Lloyd Noble Center sometimes three hours before game time to take shots. “I come in before every game and watch film. . . . I said I want to be efficient this year, so I’m more locked in and focused every time on the court.”

Hield was named Big 12 Player of the Week for his early-season efforts. It probably won’t be the last honor he receives. He also climbed up to 13th on Oklahoma’s all-time scoring list and is fifth in 3-pointers made.

He doesn’t pay much attention to that, either.

“I don’t think Buddy is worried about proving anything to anyone,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “I think he’s just worried about being better every day. That’s what he’s done through the spring and summer. I think what we’re seeing in games is just the result of his extra effort and extra work in preparation.”

Climbing the rankings

Oklahoma jumped again in the AP poll after being ranked No. 8 in the preseason. The Sooners now sit at No. 7, the highest in-season ranking since 2009. The Sooners will have a chance to jump again this week with Incarnate Word and Wisconsin on the schedule.

Three of the top six teams in the country have major matchups before the first weekend in December. After that, Oklahoma faces No. 8 Villanova in Hawaii.

Free-throw woes

Kruger was shocked by Oklahoma’s lack of success at the free-throw line against McNeese State, when the Sooners shot just 46.2 percent from the field.

He promised that there’d be a little extra free-throw practice before Tuesday night’s match-up.

“We need that,” Kruger said Friday after the 85-56 victory. “We hadn’t expected that out of the group. We’d been shooting free throws pretty well, and then all of a sudden, we had a bunch on the same night not shoot them well. We’ll get that back though.”

This season, Oklahoma is shooting 58.7 percent from the line and three players are shooting 40 percent or lower. One of those players, forward Ryan Spangler, was taking extra free throws after practice.

Spangler is just 1-for-7 but shot 72.2 percent from the line last season.

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