Gray talks about win over NU and the road ahead

Nebraska guard Corey Simms takes a shot in front of Oklahoma forward Taj Gray in the second half of the Sooners' 83-60 win Wednesday night. Gray, who scored eight points against the Cornhuskers, talks with Sooners Illustrated Editor Jay C. Upchurch about the win and what they'll need to do in the future to stay on track. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

NORMAN — Thanks to foul trouble, Taj Gray enjoyed most of Oklahoma's Big 12 game against Nebraska from the bench Wednesday night. Yet despite having their leading scorer and rebounder limited to only 15 minutes of action, the 21st-ranked Sooners still had their way with the visiting Cornhuskers, 83-60.

Gray, who entered the contest averaging 15.8 points and 8.9 boards per game, picked up three first-half fouls and played only five minutes of the second half. The 6-foot-9 junior finished with eight points, one rebound, two steals, two assists and a blocked shot in one of his least productive efforts of the season.

Still, Gray has been one of the few constants for the Sooners this season. Even as the OU guards and fellow big man Kevin Bookout have all but disappeared at times, Gray has remained steady. In fact, the Nebraska game marks only the fifth time in 24 games this season he has failed to score in double-figures.

Fortunately for the Sooners, they didn't need their go-to guy on a night when they managed to shoot 52 percent from the field (29 of 56) and 80 percent from the line (20 of 25). Kelvin Sampson's club, now 18-6 overall and 7-4 in league play, also outboarded the visitors (31-29) and forced 26 Husker turnovers.

The Sooners scored 37 points off of those miscues in front of 7,800 Lloyd Noble Center fans.

The victory halts a three-game losing streak and marks only their second win in six games. OU will find out Saturday in Manhattan if this triumph is a springboard to bigger and better things.

Afterward, Gray spoke with Sooners Illustrated editor Jay C. Upchurch about the win and the Sooners' recent struggles, as well as, what his thoughts are for the immediate future.

Sooners Illustrated: Getting a win here at home after going through a tough stretch — does this win help get you pointed back in the right direction?

Taj Gray: No doubt we're coming in off of some disappointing losses, but I think getting a win in this game is a step in the right direction as far as helping build our confidence back to where it was. I thought we got our focus back tonight, especially in the first half, and now we've got to find a way to keep it there.

Sooners Illustrated: What has been missing or what is it that hasn't been clicking with this team the last two weeks?

Taj Gray: I think our toughness hasn't been there, especially at the end of a couple games, like Missouri. It's something we are working on, keeping our toughness, our focus and intensity at a high level. We have to go out there knowing we have to have those things if we want to win games.

Sooners Illustrated: Why do you think the team has struggled so much after playing so well against teams like UConn, Texas and Oklahoma State?

Taj Gray: I think some of it's mental and some of it is physical. We're learning as a team that it takes the same kind of effort every game. For whatever reason, we have taken that mentality to the floor with us every night.

Sooners Illustrated: You guys have shown flashes of maturing into a very solid basketball team this season, but there are still a lot of question marks waiting?

Taj Gray: There is a lot of season left. Believe it or not, we're still learning at this point. We still believe our ceiling is very high and we feel we have a chance to reach that potential if we believe in what Coach Sampson is teaching us. It's pretty much up to us how far we want to go.

Sooners Illustrated: There is another tough one waiting for you Saturday at Kansas State. What do you have to do to get a win there?

Taj Gray: Stick with our game plan, execute and play hard and play physical. Those are the things we've got to do every game if we want to be successful.

Sooners Illustrated: With the Kansas game looming just a few days away, is it tough not to look a little bit past K-State?

Taj Gray: I don't think so. That's something we can't afford to do. We're not looking too far ahead or behind us. In this league, you'd better come to play every night. And as a team with some young guys on it, I think that's been the hardest lesson for us to learn. I can tell you for the rest of this week and until we leave the gym Saturday, our focus will be on Kansas State.

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