Oklahoma Sooners play first game since message-sending win

Sooners Illustrated looks at three key points before Oklahoma's game against Oral Roberts

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

Oral Roberts (8-2) vs. No. 7 Oklahoma Sooners (6-0)

When: 1 p.m. CST

TV/Radio: SSTV/107.7 FM

Series: Oklahoma, 13-2.

Big victory?

Oklahoma came home from Hawaii as the nation took notice of the Sooners’ 23-point victory against Villanova – something the Sooners’ have been politely requesting from the country for the last two years. They were praised for their 3-point shooting and their team-oriented offense. By everyone else’s account, it was a massive win.

But was it big for Oklahoma within the locker room?

“It was huge. It felt like we needed that,” Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield said. “From my freshman year, we never really finished out big wins. We didn’t have that maturity.”

Hield said the team set out to make a statement. He even turned to teammate Isaiah Cousins before the game and said to show the nation that they are for real.

The win won’t help Oklahoma in the future, though. A letdown and things could quickly be forgotten. Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said it has only raised the bar for the Sooners.

“We kind of came away from it feeling good about where our new starting point is,” Kruger said. “That’s all. We just have to get better. We, across the board, have to do all the little things better.

“It’s in the books. It’s not going to change, but it doesn’t really help us in the next ball game unless we validate it by backing it up and playing better.”

Oral Roberts, which is coming off a recent victory against Tulsa, is a strong test for the Sooners. The Golden Eagles are starting a four-game road swing before the conference season begins.

Party like 2002

It’s starting to feel a bit like déjà vu.

Oklahoma is 6-0 for the first time since 2008, when Oklahoma came into the conference season with only one loss – a stat they held until a Feb. 21 loss against Texas. The Sooners climbed the charts that season, but they haven’t been this high-profile early in the season since 2002, which was actually the last time Oklahoma opened the season with a game not in the state of Texas or Oklahoma.

The Sooners are hoping the mirror to the past continues. Oklahoma made the Elite Eight in the 2008-09 season and the 2003 Final Four.

The best defense is better defense

Last year, Oklahoma posted one of the best defensive efforts in program history. It allowed opponents to shoot 38.6 percent – the lowest mark since the 1959-60 season. The Sooners ranked 11th in the nation.

Nobody will forget the Big 12 record of 36 allowed points set in a win against Texas Tech.

But this year has been even better.

“Their focus is starting to be pretty good,” Kruger said. “Their focus and their conviction to keeping the ball out of the net and doing the little extra things. . . . We still need to limit second shots, but we’re working on it.”

Oklahoma ranks first in the nation in defensive rebounding (35.17 rebounds per game), field goal percentage defense (32.4 percent) and 3-point percentage defense (22.8 percent).

The Sooners have allowed 61.3 points per game, which ranks 25th in the nation.

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