OU Entering Critical Stretch

Oklahoma fell to 11-7 on the year and to 2-2 in Big 12 play with a 65-62 loss at Texas A&M on Tuesday. The Aggies won their 13th straight home game to improve to 13-5 and 2-2. The Sooners are on the road again Saturday against Texas Tech (7 p.m. CST).

GETTING INSIDE

Oklahoma saved its season last week with home-court victories over Oklahoma State and Missouri. Not only did the Sooners win, but they played defense, too. This week presented them with two opportunities to steal wins away from home.

They many things right but failed to cash in on the first of those chances Tuesday night at Texas A&M. Now they have one more chance before returning home to face Iowa State on Jan. 27.

Oklahoma plays Saturday night at Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders began the season very strong but have gone backwards since conference play began. With road losses at Oklahoma State and Kansas surrounding a home-court loss to Missouri, the Red Raiders were 0-3 in the Big 12 heading into Wednesday night's home game with Iowa State. Win or lose against the Cyclones, Tech still will be desperate for a victory against the Sooners.

Oklahoma will be trying to build off a strong second half at College Station, one that saw them begin the final 20 minutes down 10 points, only to lead by four inside the last four minutes. Yet having let it get away, the prospect of a letdown has to be a concern for coach Jeff Capel.

Oklahoma will enter Lubbock 11-7 on the season and 2-2 in the Big 12. It's hard to know what will be required to reach March Madness, but with five out-of-conference losses, every game on the schedule couldn't be any more precious to the Sooners. And of their road games remaining, few may be more winnable than their date with the Red Raiders.

The Big 12 is brutally tough. Kansas was No. 1 until Texas became No. 1. Next week's polls are sure to change after Kansas State beat Texas on Monday night in Manhattan, Kan.

Following the game against the Red Raiders, Oklahoma still must travel to play Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Colorado, Kansas and Texas. None will be easy, but the Huskers and Buffs aren't world-beaters.

Nonetheless, running the table at home likely will be tougher than stealing a couple on the road. The Sooners still must play Texas and Kansas State at Lloyd Noble Center.

TEXAS A&M 65, OKLAHOMA 62: It might as well have been three games rolled into one. Texas A&M won the first one, taking a 39-29 lead. Oklahoma won the first 16 minutes of the second half, actually leading 60-56 before the game turned again. But the Aggies had the last laugh.

"Congrats to Texas A&M," Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. "They made the plays down the stretch."
Oklahoma got 21 points from freshman point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin and 14 from sophomore guard Willie Warren.

The Sooners survived 34.8 percent first-half shooting to get back in the game early in the second half. Though Oklahoma has little room for moral victories, Capel was still pleased to see some growth from his team.
"It's disappointing. We had a lead and let it slip away," he said, "but I think we have grown up since the last time we went on the road."

NOTES, QUOTES

--One constant Jeff Capel wants his team to bring to each game is defensive intensity.
It was lacking in defeats Oklahoma suffered during a disappointing nonconference run, as well as a 31-point loss at Baylor to begin Big 12 play.

That outcome should have convinced the Sooners they needed to man up defensively, but their coach also supplied numerous reminders. With back-to-back wins at home against two opponents, Oklahoma State and Missouri, receiving votes in the polls, Oklahoma defended well and benefitted from the effort.

"If that means uglying the game up, then yeah, we want to be ugly the rest of the year," said Capel, the Sooners' fourth-year coach. "We have to defend at a high level."

Oklahoma State made just 27.5 percent of its field goal attempts as the Sooners pulled out a 62-57 overtime win. Missouri then shot 35.9 percent as the Sooners prevailed 66-61.

One of the most impressive stats worth noting from the win was that two of the Sooners' three leading scorers, forward Tiny Gallon and guard Tony Crocker, failed to net any points. That's a sign that Oklahoma, though thin, doesn't rely entirely on the same go-to guys.

--Oklahoma's Jeff Capel was among six Big 12 coaches who came into the conference in 2006-07. He became the first to reach 80 wins at his Big 12 post with the Jan. 11 victory against Oklahoma State. Capel stood at 81-38, with Missouri's Mike Anderson right behind at 79-38. The other two coaches who started in 2006-07 and remain in the conference are Nebraska's Doc Sadler (67-46) and Iowa State's Greg McDermott (56-56). Kansas State's Bob Huggins left after one season, while Oklahoma State's Sean Sutton was dismissed after two seasons.

--Although Oklahoma struggled during nonconference play, it held serve at home and now stands 9-0 after winning its first two Big 12 games in Lloyd Noble Center, against Oklahoma State and Missouri. The win against the Cowboys improved Capel to 5-0 in overtime games while at OU.

ON THE SPOT: Oklahoma is capable of enduring offensive funks, even at home. It posted more turnovers (10) than field goals (nine) in the first half of its Jan. 16 win against Missouri, and didn't score until the 14:02 mark. Credit the Sooners for only allowing 10 points during that slow start and remaining within striking distance. They only trailed by five at halftime. Such starts on the road could be more troublesome. F Tiny Gallon went scoreless against Missouri and the Sooners need him to produce as a key weapon inside.

QUOTE TO NOTE:
"Our defense really picked up (against Missouri) and that's what saved us." -- Oklahoma G Cade Davis.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL


SEASON RECAP: Just when it looked like Oklahoma could stumble in the Big 12, the Sooners claimed back-to-back wins against Oklahoma State and Missouri to give themselves 29 wins over the last 30 home games. That was a sign the Sooners will at least be a tough out at home, but they must maintain the same intensity and not let up defensively on the road after opening conference play with a 31-point defeat at Baylor. Depth could be an issue with the seven-man rotation coach Jeff Capel is using.

PLAYER ROTATION:
Usual Starters -- F Tiny Gallon, G Tony Crocker, G Willie Warren, G Cade Davis, G Tommy Mason-Griffin. Key Subs -- F Ryan Wright, G Steven Pledger.

GAME REVIEW:
Baylor 91, Oklahoma 60
Oklahoma 62, Oklahoma State 57 (OT)
Oklahoma 66, Missouri 61
Texas A&M 65, Oklahoma 62

GAME PREVIEW:
at Texas Tech, Saturday, Jan. 23
vs. Iowa State, Wednesday, Jan. 27
at Nebraska, Saturday, Jan. 30
vs. Texas, Saturday, Feb. 6


ROSTER REPORT:


--Sophomore G Willie Warren opted to return to Oklahoma after his freshman season. Some believed he might be a late first-round draft choice. Whatever, he's not playing very well. Against Texas A&M, foul trouble limited him to 30 minutes on the court. He made five of 13 shots, no 3-pointers and committed five of Oklahoma's nine turnovers while dealing only one assist.

--Junior G Cade Davis, the lone Oklahoman in the rotation, from Elk City, continues to play very well. He came up with is first double-double in Oklahoma's win over Missouri despite waking up sick with a stomach virus. He followed with nine points, seven rebounds and three of Oklahoma's five steals against the Aggies. He was the only player on either team to play every minute.

--Freshman PG Tommy Mason-Griffin went from horrible to very good in the space of one game. Against Missouri he hit two of nine shots, finished with eight points and had more turnovers (seven) than assists (five). Against Texas A&M, he made seven of 13 shots, three of four from 3-point range, and finished with 21 points. He dished out five assists against two turnovers.


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