During the last month, Oklahoma went from Final Four contender (maybe even the frontrunner) to just another team that might have a shot. But over the last five days, the Sooners – a team expected to be led by a veteran and almost infallible backcourt – have looked like a team much more likely to get an early exit, even if they are opening NCAA Tournament play just a few miles from home.
In a loss to Texas and then a victory against Baylor, the Sooners have collapsed late in games. The only advantage the Oklahoma had against Baylor on Tuesday night was that a torrid start gave it enough of a lead to withstand its own self-inflicted onslaught.
The Sooners’ once-mighty offense has been reduced to just a few pan flashes of excellence, enough to show what could be but not enough to sustain any momentum. And the defense has been starved by foul trouble and a lacking motivation when shots aren’t falling.
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger pointed to potentially another culprit after Tuesday’s win.
“Things were going the other direction there in the last few minutes, we were very tired,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “I didn’t like what was going on. Emotionally drained at that point. Again, I’m going to credit these guys for figuring our a way to win a ball game that could have easily slipped away. And not to let us off the hook, either. We didn’t do what we have to in the second half.”
That’s the first time that Kruger has used fatigue as a reason for Oklahoma’s struggles, maintaining that the veteran core is able to play numerous minutes. Ryan Spangler, Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins and Buddy Hield are nearing their 100th-straight start together and their shooting exploits before and after practice are well-documented.
But fatigue can’t be quantified. Today is about numbers.
For comparison-sake, Sooners Illustrated has broken down the two collapses into the major runs in the latter stages each game. There were some struggles before and some after, but this is where it all went wrong. It’s time to look at the numbers from the past two games to get a better idea of what really happened…
|OU shooting percentage||1-9||0-8|
|Turnovers committed||7, including 6 straight||2|
|Average time of possession||15 seconds||19.5|
|Defensive time of possession||12.75 seconds||18.76|
|Offensive rebounds allowed||0||3|
|Fast-break points allowed||4||6|
|Points in the paint allowed||10||10|
|Opponent free throws made||3||7|
|Starting point||Oklahoma up, 65-47||Oklahoma up, 58-51|
|Ending point||Oklahoma down, 68-67||Oklahoma down, 73-58|
As you've probably guessed, Game X is Tuesday night's victory against Baylor while Game Y is the loss to Texas. But look back at the numbers. Which meltdown is actually worse? Decide for yourself but the more damning problem for Oklahoma is that ultimately both collapses were very different.
The Sooners found decent offense against Texas but just missed shots. That resulted in easy baskets and a lacking motivation defensively. Against Baylor, a veteran backcourt committed six-straight turnovers at one point, and the Bears were basically running a lay-up drill. Just one issue and it's fine. But in a matter of just four days, Oklahoma went completely array and found a way to struggle in just about every aspect of basketball.
“I feel like we’re a better ball club than that,” Hield said. “Coach does a good job getting us together. We just have to find a way to win. Teams are not going to back down from us.
“We have to do a better job. We’ll figure it out.”
Kruger also pointed to a lack of execution and movement on offense against Baylor. While that can’t be tracked statistically, the spike in turnovers during the Bears’ run was dramatic. The Sooners looked like a team just going through the motions – content with an 18-point lead and figuring Baylor would just roll over.
“Just execution and detail just wasn’t there,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “We were just moving from one spot to another. We weren’t picking or setting our man up. We weren’t going with any aggressiveness or confidence at that point. We’ve got to do a lot better.”
Oklahoma had a 24-point lead with 15:37 to go against Baylor. At that point, Baylor had hit just three 3-pointers all game. Over the next seven minutes, the Bears hit five, including a stretch of three in four possessions. The Sooners committed 11 turnovers in the second half but only one before Baylor’s 3-point barrage.
Just as Oklahoma started to hurt itself, Baylor found its rhythm. The result should have been expected. Statistically, the Sooners were outmatched. Emotionally, they were outworked. Ultimately, they were outplayed.
“We put ourselves in position to be down late there,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “You can’t do that. You can’t afford to do that. . . . It was good to bounce back and win it after that for sure. It would have been a tough one to get over had we not.”