Oklahoma Sooners look to get back on the winning track against Baylor

Losing four of seven hasn't hurt Oklahoma in rankings or seedings, but it has exposed the Sooners' weaknesses.

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

No. 19 Baylor Bears (21-8, 10-6) at No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners (22-6, 10-6)

TV/Radio: ESPN2/107.7 FM

Time: 7 p.m.

Series: Oklahoma, 43-12

A nation of losers

Oklahoma has lost four of its last seven games, but it is far from the only team having troubles. Last week alone, nine of the top 11 teams in the country lost at least one game. After the Sooners won 12-straight games to open the year and 19 of their first 21, the season has hit some speed bumps.

The Big 12 Conference could potentially have seven teams finish with a winning record in conference play. While teams around them continue to lose as well, Oklahoma isn’t without its known flaws. Even with their losses, the Sooners remain a projected top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s kind of like we’ve tried like crazy to get off that one or two line and can’t do it, in a weird way,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “The fact that we’ve got one week to go and we’re competing to be one of those top seeds speaks well for this group, speaks well for what they’ve done on the year.”

But all of Oklahoma’s problems came back to the forefront in the final seven minutes against Texas on Saturday. Missed shots and poor transition and exterior defense resulted in the biggest loss of the season.

“It's disappointing, but yet you've got to kind of learn what you can from it and not dwell on it to where it affects the next game or preparation for the next game,” Kruger said.

Not-the-same Baylor Bears

Things are changing in Waco, where the Bears have always gone with their traditional zone defense. Now, they are relying on more and more man-to-man defense. Zone is still their primary set, but Baylor’s increase in man defense could actually play into helping Oklahoma in the long term – forcing them off the 3-point arc and into the paint.

The Sooners haven’t been there consistently enough.

Jonathan Motley has emerged off the bench for Baylor, scoring double digits in four of the last five games and more than 20 points in three of the last five. Baylor has won three of its last four games, its best stretch since five straight in early January – just before its double-digit home loss to Oklahoma.

“They've got a lot of guys I think playing pretty well,” Kruger said.

Rico Gathers has seen a drop in playing time over the last three games because of Motley’s emergence. After playing less than 22 minutes just twice in the first 26 games of the season, Gathers hasn’t played more than 15 minutes in the last three games.

Griffin makes his return

Former Oklahoma All-American Blake Griffin will return to the Lloyd Noble Center as the Sooners honor his jersey at halftime. The consensus national player of the year and Oklahoma’s first No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft will have his jersey raised to the rafters.

“I am proud and truly honored to be part of a long and storied Sooner history," Griffin said in a release by the university when it was announced that he would return. "My time at OU will always hold a special place in my heart, and I am so grateful to the fans and the university for all of their support throughout my career.”

He is a five-time NBA All-Star and is now playing in his sixth year with the Clippers. In his final season at Oklahoma, Griffin averaged 22.7 points, 14.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists. He was first in the nation in rebounds (504, the most since 1979) and double-doubles (30, the second-most in NCAA history).

Griffin helped lead Oklahoma to the Elite Eight in 2009.

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