The electronic wheel spins on the scoreboard above the court in the Lloyd Noble Center, asking fans to imitate the many facial expressions of Khadeem Lattin.
There’s the one when he flexes after a big block or the one when Lattin sticks out his tongue after a big play. He yells, and he scowls. The face that’s missing is the one that the Oklahoma Sooners have seen much more of in the last two weeks – the face of Lattin when he sits on the bench in foul trouble.
Lattin has picked up at least four fouls in six of the last nine games, and against TCU, he played just seven minutes before foul trouble. It matched a season-low and was his lowest total of minutes since last February. As Lattin sat on the bench against the Horned Frogs, the frustration built up along with the understanding of just how much the Sooners need him on the defensive end.
“Saturday was incredibly frustrating,” Lattin said. “I feel like I really could have gotten going in that game.”
In four of Oklahoma’s six losses, Lattin picked up at least four fouls. The only two games when Lattin wasn’t in foul trouble was in a Sooners’ loss was the triple overtime defeat against Kansas and against Texas Tech, which was one of only two games this season when Lattin didn’t have a point nor a block.
What Lattin has to find as Oklahoma enters the postseason is a balance between a lack of aggression and bad fouls caused by over-aggression.
“We’re better when he’s not picking up early fouls, no question about that,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger. “It seems like one of them is kind of legit, and one of them seems like a silly foul, reaching after a long rebound or slapping someone while he’s sitting on the floor. He’s had those types of fouls. He’s got to eliminate those.”
Kruger said that the team will try and get Lattin out of games more quickly after one foul moving forward. Against TCU, Lattin picked up two fouls in the first three minutes of the game and missed the rest of first half. After four quick points in the second half, Lattin picked up two more fouls in less than 45 seconds – spending the rest of the game on the bench.
Learning that balance can be difficult, though, for a young player. It’s a balance that Oklahoma senior forward Ryan Spangler, who has played at two schools over five years and made nearly 100 starts, finally learned before this season. Having Lattin, who was named to the All-Big 12 Defensive Team, on the floor changes things for the Sooners.
“It’s different. He’s on that defensive team for a reason,” Spangler said. “He protects that rim. When he goes out of the game, we have to figure out a way not to let them get to the rim like that. He does protect us.”
Lattin knows how important it is for him to figure out that balance. Kruger said that the coaching staff talks with Lattin about not picking up bad fouls but some of that is also solely on Lattin’s shoulders.
“We’re a different team when I’m on the court and helping and being productive,” Lattin said. “I just have to find a way within myself to figure it out and figure out what I have to do.”