Oklahoma Sooners set for a high-profile early season showdown against Villanova

OU ready to honor the troops, prove itself on a national stage

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

No. 8 Villanova Wildcats (7-0) vs. No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners (5-0)

When: 6 p.m. CST

TV/Radio: FS1/107.7 FM

Series: Villanova, 2-1.

Honoring the troops

Unaware of much American history growing up in the Bahamas, Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield didn’t learn about events like Pearl Harbor until he moved to the United States in high school and eventually became a self-proclaimed “weird history” nerd who watches Ancient Aliens.

Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger's father-in-law served in Germany as a tail gunner during World War II but never talked about it much outside of an occasional discussion with Kruger’s son, Kevin.

Freshman Rashard Odomes has lived a little bit of a military brat’s life. He was born in Alaska, where his mother, Donna Stewart, was stationed during part of her 20-year career in the United States Army. She also was stationed in Germany and South Korea and served a one-year tour in Iraq. Stewart retired as a Sergeant First Class.

During the past weekend, the Oklahoma Sooners have touched on all of that with tours around military bases at Pearl Harbor and treks through active warships. On Monday night, they’ll play in front of a packed house – open to military only.

“I’m just very grateful for what the troops have done for this country,” Hield said. “They’ve allowed me to come here and have a free life and just live free. I’m very appreciative of all that they’ve done for this country.”

Oklahoma made a trip to Normandy, France and Belgium two years ago. The Sooners got another history lesson this weekend. Kruger said his team couldn’t turn down the opportunity because of the educational aspect of the trip.

“It’s the reason we’re doing this trip,” Kruger said.

Learning is one thing, but it’s also a chance to honor the troops. For Stewart, who wasn’t able to make the trip, it will a source of pride for her to watch her son play in front of a crowd of service men and women.

“I know it’s an honor for him, but it’s a major honor for me,” Stewart said. “I really wish that I could be there. . . . My whole family will be watching him and supporting him while he’s playing there.”

A serious measuring stick

Monday night will be another big test for Oklahoma, which is opening the season with three high-profile games in the first six contests. It might be the biggest. Kruger said they designed the schedule that way because of the leadership and experience on the roster.

It has also helped to keep Oklahoma focused even more during practice through the first month of the season. In an early-season, top-10 matchup, Oklahoma will learn a lot about itself.

“That’s a measuring stick early in the year,” Kruger said. “Guys have made good progress. We’re looking forward to it, but we also understand how good they are.”

Hield used to watch Villanova when Scottie Reynolds played guard for the Wildcats almost a decade ago. He dreamed of going to Villanova as a kid in the Bahamas.

Now, all he wants to do is beat them.

“We need a team like that to test where we’re at, to test our physicality and see where we stand,” said Hield, who wore a brace on his right wrist during practice Thursday but said he won’t wear one during the game. “Villanova is a team that’s tough and physical. They can get after you.”

Lattin finds his confidence

Sooners forward Khadeem Lattin knew he was taking himself off the floor with bad fouls and poor play – scoring just nine points through the first four games of the season – but things changed the last time out.

In the first half alone against Central Arkansas, Lattin scored a career-high 10 points. He added another bucket in the second half to make it an even dozen.

“It’s nice to have a game like that where you build your confidence,” Lattin said. “It boosts you up to kind of get ready. You get more comfortable with the guys. It’s always fun to have a game like that.”

The coaching staff has been working extensively with Lattin on attacking the basket in the paint. They’ve told him to run at the rim, not just approach it and to always jump towards the basket when shooting in close, not fall away from it.

“It’s just been a bunch of little factors that have been holding me back,” Lattin said. “I feel like I’ve gotten to a point where I know what to do and I know how to stay on the floor and what to do on the floor.”

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