Ball movement has the Oklahoma Sooners playing at a Final Four level

OU picked up 23 assists in the Sweet 16 against Texas A&M but had a 10-minute surge that showed they are championship contenders again

ANAHEIM, Calif. – For 10 minutes in the first half Thursday night, Oklahoma again looked like a team that could win the national championship. The dominant run erased early struggles and hid a mediocre second half, which was aided by a porous showing by Texas A&M.

The pass-first, find-the-open-guy offense that allowed the Sooners to roll through the non-conference schedule showed itself again in the first-half surge. Oklahoma beat Elite 8-bound Villanova by 23 points in December with the offense.

Sweet 16 entrant Wisconsin was no match for the Sooners in late November, losing by 17 points at Lloyd Noble Center. Oklahoma played just two games decided by less than 10 points before Christmas.

Ball movement gave Oklahoma the No. 1 ranking in January and had many thinking the Sooners could make a run to the Final Four. That movement is coming back in March, and now, the Sooners are one game away from Houston and the national semifinal.

“We had a lot of good ball moving,” Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard said. “Coach has been preaching for us to move around, even without the ball, off-ball movement, and the guards were able to get into the lane and find the bigs for easy lay-ups and dunks to start off the game.

“So, it was really just playing good team basketball.”

The Sooners (28-7) finished with 23 assists against Texas A&M. It was the second-most of the season, behind only a 29-assist performance against Baylor. But the Bears statistics team hands out assists more willingly than than most, and Oklahoma’s 19-4 run over the final eight minutes of the first half came in the Sweet 16 – not a random Big 12 Conference road game.

Even before Oklahoma’s final surge, the Sooners ran off nine unanswered points. During both combined stretches, only three made baskets came without an assist.

The only three non-assist baskets: Woodard knocked down an open pull-up 3-pointer, Isaiah Cousins scored in transition after forcing a turnover and Woodard hit a shot-clock-beating bank shot off a loose ball 19 seconds before the end of the half.

“I feel great about the way they played, the way the attacked made plays for each other,” Lon Kruger said. “Again, good to see different guys stepping in and contributing.”

Five different Sooners scored in double figures and five different players had at least three assists Thursday. Only Buddy Hield had an assist-to-turnover ratio less than one.

Oklahoma finished with 15 turnovers. It committed just four turnovers in the first half. During its final stretch in the first half, Oklahoma committed three turnovers, including a charge by Hield and a turnover off a loose ball by Christian James.

“We got a lot of transition opportunities, which we converted, which increases the assists a bit,” Kruger said. “Yeah, then they stepped up and made shots. So again, I thought the guys did a terrific job of playing with a good attack, downhill, moving the ball, we weren’t tentative at all. And it’s a good result.”

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