OKLAHOMA CITY — Kelvin Sampson shook hands with Pooh Williamson outside the interview room in the Ford Center tunnel and wished the new Tulsa head coach luck. The two exchanged a few more pleasantries before eventually going their separate ways.
Thanks to a late rally that led to a 70-64 Oklahoma victory, the Sooners and Hurricane continued on separate paths this season, as well. The hard-fought win improved Sampson's club to 8-2, while Tulsa fell to 2-6.
But during one seven-minute stretch of the second half, it was hard to tell which team was moving up and which was plummeting. And Sampson said as much during his short conversation with Williamson, who was named interim head coach at TU when John Phillips resigned over the weekend.
"Coach (Williamson), we've still got to put a lot of things together — we've got a long ways to go as a team," Sampson offered.
Since producing a season-best first-half performance against Duke on Dec. 18, the 29th-ranked Sooners have struggled to generate offense on a consistent basis. And that was the case again at times against Tulsa.
Fortunately, senior guard Jaison Williams came to the rescue with a career-best 21 points, which included several game-clinching free throws in the final seconds. Sooners Illustrated editor Jay C. Upchurch spoke with Williams briefly after the first game of the Touchstone Energy All-College Classic Tuesday night:
SI: This team has really been in need of someone stepping up and making some key shots from the perimeter on a consistent basis. You were that player tonight.
JW: Again, we got a little bit away from our game plan of working it inside. It's not secret that's a major strength of this team with Taj (Gray) and Kevin (Bookout) in there. Fortunately, our guards stepped up and made some shots when we had to.
SI: Of course when an opponent works to take away the inside, you guys have to really be difference-makers?
JW: That's right. The whole season we've been waiting for a game where our guards start hitting some key threes and this was that game. Fortunately, our guards stepped up and made shots. We can make threes. It's not like we can't shoot from the perimeter. Maybe we haven't done with the consistency we need, but that's going to come.
SI: What is the key for this team on offense right now?
JW: Simple — we've got to make open shots. If we get open looks, we've got to knock them down. That's the bottom line. But winning a bunch of games from the outside is not going to be our game plan. Our game plan is going stay the same. It's just something we've still got to work on.
SI: Are there other factors to this team's success down the road?
JW: Coming together defensively. That may be our biggest key. We have to have five people playing defense on the same page, at the same intensity level every game. I think we're moving in that direction, but we've still got some improving to do.
SI: Do you feel this team is making progress every game, every practice?
JW: Yes, I do. Our practices have been really good and everyone on this team is focused on putting all of the pieces together for 40 minutes every game.
SI: Does this team have what it takes to mature into a serious contender?
JW: I believe we do. We've obviously got a lot of improving to do, but we've got the ingredients. Tonight was one of those ugly games where we just got the job done. You could see the room for improvement, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
SI: Are you feeling more and more comfortable with your role as a senior on this team?
JW: Definitely. I think you see that a little tonight, and hopefully I can continue to contribute in whatever manner Coach Sampson needs me.
OU still piecing together puzzle
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