When 24th-ranked Oklahoma hosts fifth-ranked Texas Saturday night the Sooners will need a great game from All-American candidate Taj Gray, who has been inconsistent this year in averaging 14 points and eight rebounds per game.
Against Baylor on Wednesday, Gray seemed out of it taking just two shots and scoring just three points in the first half, but in the second half he played with great energy and finished with 16 points to tie Terrell Everett for game-high honors.
If Gray can start playing up to his preseason Big 12 Player of the Year honors, then the Sooners just might become that team that was ranked in the top 10 at the beginning of the season. Gray knows this as much as anybody, and today he talked to OUInsider.com about his recent play and his hopes for better results this weekend against Texas.
JH: You were a different player in the second half against Baylor. What was the difference in your play?
TG: "I am starting to get back to where I was when I was playing well. I am starting to feel comfortable out on the court and I am just going out there and having fun. I thought that was a big game for us (Baylor), especially because of the way we played. It gave us a three-game winning streak and it was a game that we needed because we went out there and got our spirit going. I think we are now ready for Saturday."
JH: Over the last several games, have you been putting maybe to much pressure on yourself?
TG: "Yeah, I think I was out on the court thinking too much for the past three games instead of just going out there and just playing. There has been a lot on my mind, but I think after this last game I got a lot off my shoulders so I can just go out there and relax."
JH: Was the first half against Baylor, and other times over the last several games where it seems you can't get a shot off or the ball on the block, frustrating for you?
TG: "I think that is just poor execution on our part, but while we have been frustrated a little bit we never got down on ourselves. Our guards are beginning to pick it up a little bit on defense and they are knocking down shots. Our 3-point shooting last night was great. I think it comes down to just being more aggressive in the second half compared to the first half. At least for me that was the case."
JH: When your guards are hitting shots, especially 3's, that really opens things up for you inside, doesn't it?
TG: "Our guards are coming in and working on their 3's every day. I see them knocking them down every day. Last night they knocked them down, so I feel their shooting is going to help open some holes for 'Book' (Kevin Bookout) and I in the post."
JH: Texas has a lot of offensive weapons that you have to stop, don't they?
TG: "I think rebounding is going to be the biggest key in that game. They have two great rebounders in Brad Buckman, LaMarcus Aldridge, and P.J. Tucker will get in the mix as well. It will be a handful just keeping those guys off the glass. It is going to be a tough task, but I think we can do it."
JH: You have been at Oklahoma for a seaso- and-a-half, but doesn't it seem like you have played against Buckman 100 times?
TG: "Yeah, it really does (laughs). It does seem like I have played him four or five times, but it has only been twice. That is what you get into when you play rivalry games like we have with Texas. We also play them in the summer time and get to know them a little bit, and all of a sudden it is like you have known them forever."
JH: Will you match-up against Aldridge, who seems to be very talented?
TG: "It is going to be fun to play against LaMarcus again, because I got a chance to play with him a little bit I the summer and I enjoyed playing against him. Now I will match-up with him and it will be another competition and another challenge, so I will just go after it."
JH: While he is taller and a very gifted player, you are quicker and more athletic, aren't you?
TG: "I don't know. He is pretty athletic himself. We will have to see when we get into the game, because whoever wins wins. This is not about who is better individually or who runs faster between he and I, this is about who is better between Oklahoma verses Texas."
JH: One thing you have going for you is that he has to guard you as well?
TG: "Yeah, that goes both ways because he can take it to me and I can take it to him. There are going to be five guys on the court for each team, so we are battling against them and we are going to battle against each other."
JH: Talk about the overall match-up with Texas.
TG: "We are just trying to come back in the conference after losing those first couple of games against Missouri and Nebraska. We are trying to get out of this hole that we are in. We just need to keep our win streak going from here on out and we have a big game on Saturday against Texas. That is all we need to focus on and then take it from there."
JH: Teams have tried different ways to double-team you this season and it seems you have tried to get your teammates involved in the offense to beat the doubl- teams. But in the second half against Baylor, didn't you look more for your own shot even against the double-teams?
TG: "It is difficult at times to look for your own shot because of the double-teams, but when I get those opportunities I just have to go for them. Sometimes you have to be passive and sometimes aggressive, so when the opportunity comes I just have to go for it. Hopefully, I will get some of those opportunities against Texas."
Gray looking forward to matchup with Texas
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