Sooners Illustrated will present three things to watch before every men’s basketball game during the 2015-16 season.
TCU Horned Frogs (10-11, 1-7) at No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners (18-2, 7-2)
TV/Radio: ESPNEWS/107.7 FM
Time: 7 p.m.
Series: Oklahoma, 16-2
An older team, a better team
When Oklahoma’s collective back was against the wall last year, it usually broke. The Sooners were 8-8 in games decided by fewer than 10 points last year. Five of those victories came after Valentine’s Day.
This season, Oklahoma is 6-2 thus far in single-digit games. The Sooners are winning more games this season than last year, but they’re finding ways to win.
There’s no secret formula and no secret phrase that Buddy Hield says to his team after the final media timeout. There’s no special strategy that Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger has figured out. Oklahoma has learned to succeed in tight situations by losing in those same situations last year.
“It’s experience, just experience,” Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler said. “Even last year, we lost some games we didn’t know how to finish out. I think we learned from that. This year, we’re not going to let one of those slip through our fingers again because that can cost you.”
The Sooners trailed for much of their two biggest games against LSU and Iowa State only to come back and win. Oklahoma nearly upset Kansas despite trailing in the second half. Last year, Oklahoma probably wouldn’t have fought its way into triple overtime at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, a place where Kansas has lost only five times in conference play in the last decade.
Their capable of much more this season.
“It’s a year older and a year more clearly understanding of how tough each possessions it and how much focus you have to have and the value of each possession,” Kruger said. “This group understands that pretty well. The seniors are very special in that way.”
Spangler’s bounce is back
Many began to question Spangler’s health as he struggled through one of the worst stretches of his career – just 19 points and 28 rebounds through a three-game stretch – barely more than two weeks ago.
It deteriorated into a two-point, six-rebound performance in a loss to Iowa State, when Spangler went 1-for-7form the field and 1-for-6 from behind the arc. It was just a bad game.
He reaffirmed that with his words just before the Sooners’ game against Baylor that he wasn’t hurt or tired. His play over the last week-and-a-half has told the same story. Spangler is averaging 13.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game over the last three contests.
“I just think that I just had my regular games,” Spangler said. “That’s what people are used to. . . .There was a three or four games stretch where I didn’t hit many shots. I just hit shots. It picked everything else up.”
His double-double against LSU, which was only his second since the triple overtime loss to Kansas, was spurred at least a little by his matchup against All-American freshman Ben Simmons, who took just one shot in the final ten minutes on Saturday.
“I had the duty to try to slow him down and try to make it hard for him,” Spangler said. “That’s what I did.”
Handling the Horned Frogs
It’s a small body of work, but there is no Big 12 Conference opponent that Oklahoma has had an easier time with than TCU. In fact, there’s no opponent with more than five games played that Oklahoma has a better winning percentage against in its history than the Horned Frogs.
TCU has never won in Norman but did win once in Oklahoma City in 1986. The only other series win came in 2013 in Ft. Worth, 70-67, in the regular season finale. That was Hield and Isaiah Cousins’ first year on campus.