Sooners Illustrated will present three things to watch before every men’s basketball game during the 2015-16 season.
TV/Radio: CBS/107.7 FM
Time: 1 p.m.
Series: Oklahoma, 53-35
Due for a great start
There’s nothing Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger can do to get his team to start faster. There are no magic words or motivational speeches to help shots go down early in games. It’s just about time that the No. 3-ranked Sooners jump out early on a team.
Austin, Texas seems to be the best place for that to happen. It has been in the past.
“It’s been a while,” Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler said. “It’s probably been since Baylor since all of us have hit shots together on the same day. We’re still winning somehow. Just keep playing defense and the shooting will take care of itself.”
Last year, Oklahoma raced out to a near 20-point lead in the first half against Texas. For the last six games, the Sooners haven’t shot well and eclipsed the 40-percent mark from behind the 3-point arc for the first time in February on Wednesday.
Oklahoma started 2-for-20 against Kansas and 2-for-18 against Texas Tech. The Sooners scored just 27 points in the first half against Oklahoma State.
“We haven’t gotten off to really good starts lately,” Kruger said. “When you think about, even (Wednesday) night, we didn’t get off to a very good start against Texas here. I guess we did get off to a decent start at West Virginia – not that we shot the 3 well – but we got off to a lead, which we hadn’t been doing. We’d love to get off to a good start.”
When Spangler wasn’t knocking down shots, it created major spacing issues for the Sooners. Teams could clog the lane against Oklahoma and take away its best weapon – the drive and kick. All three starting guards have the ability to get into the lane and find an open teammate.
Without Spangler out of the lane, there was no way for Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard to get to the basket.
“Our best ball was when we were spreading the floor and everyone was hitting shots,” Spangler said. “If I can do that, it just makes it easier on our guards to be able to drive and not have somebody under the rim.”
Spangler started 4-for-4 against Texas and finished better than 70 percent from the field. Texas has the ability to pack the lane with one of the bigger front courts in the Big 12 Conference. Getting at least one of those forwards out of the paint will allow Oklahoma a better chance to run its offense, like it did in the second half against Oklahoma State.
But Spangler knocking down shots won’t change the Sooners’ base offense just enhance it.
“It won’t change what we do,” Kruger said. “It might change his aggressiveness early on to shoot the 3. That wont’ change what we do necessarily. Ryan’s always got that opportunity. When he feels good, we want him to shoot it. We want him to do what he feels good about doing, shoot it or drive it or pass it.”
Battling the pace
Oklahoma State cranked the pace way down Wednesday night, averaging 28 seconds per possession in the first half. That’s the blueprint other teams have used to beat the Sooners.
Kansas State muddled the game, and Texas Tech took away all tempo and momentum from its win against the Sooners, who are starting to figure out how to beat the slow pace.
“Our half-court offense is getting better,” Cousins said. “We’re just moving the ball better and players are getting more confident now.”
Texas will no doubt try to follow the same guidelines after the Longhorns nearly upset the Sooners in the first matchup between the two teams. Oklahoma pushed the pace with more pressure, a new wrinkle in the Sooners’ defense.
“We took advantage of that,” Kruger said. “. . . We have to try, as we did in the second half, to pick it up a little bit.”