To get anywhere this season, a season in which time is running out, Oklahoma must win on the road. The Sooners have yet to lose at home this season but are only 12-8 overall and 3-3 in the Big 12 Conference because they haven't won away from home.
Oklahoma played two winnable away games last week and lost them both, at Texas A&M and Texas Tech. After holding serve at home Wednesday against Iowa State, the Sooners have another chance at Nebraska on Saturday.
That's one storyline, how badly OU needs win at the Devaney Center. The other one involves personnel. The Sooners survived the Cyclones with Willie Warren and Tony Crocker on the bench in street clothes. Warren sprained an ankle in practice prior to the Texas Tech game and missed his second straight game Wednesday.
Crocker sprained an ankle against Texas Tech, yet came back to play, though slightly hobbled, later in the game. However, four days later, the ankle would not let him play.
If neither can go at Nebraska, the Sooners may be in a world of hurt and will at the least be very thin. Yet even if they can go, the culture on the team may have changed irrevocably as a result of the emergence of freshman point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin, who's played 202 of OU's last 205 minutes. He is hitting 50 percent from beyond the 3-point arc since conference play began (20 of 40) and is coming off the game of his life: 38 points, six assists and two steals against Iowa State.
"Tommy stepped up and had one of the best performances I have seen in Lloyd Noble (Center) since I have been here, and one of the best performances for a freshman guard in an adverse situation," OU coach Jeff Capel said.
Coming into the season, the presumptive leader was Warren, but the sophomore guard, who considered entering the NBA draft after his freshman season, has struggled much of his second collegiate campaign, particularly from 3-point land, where he's hitting 28.6 percent (24 of 84). He's also dished only four more assists (75) than he's committed turnovers (71).
Of course, it's very hard to lead sitting on the bench, nursing an ankle and out of uniform.
No matter who plays, or who leads, the Sooners have to start winning away from home and Saturday they have another chance.
OKLAHOMA 89, IOWA STATE 84: Freshman point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin, already on the up side of an up and down first collegiate season, went way up against the Cyclones, scoring 38 points to lead the shorthanded Sooners to their victory. Cade David added 24 points to the effort.
The Sooners needed those kinds of performances on a night Willie Warren and Tony Crocker, their two leading scorers, both rode the bench with recently sprained right ankles.
OU moved to 12-8 overall and 3-2 in the Big 12 Conference, also 10-0 at home, while Iowa State fell to 12-8 and 1-4.
The Sooners scored 48 points in the first half and pushed its lead to 21 points in the opening 20 minutes, yet the Cyclones were right back in it, making it a three-point game four different times over the last 5:20. OU kept Iowa State at bay by hitting 7 of 8 free throws over the final 2 minutes.
Diante Garrett led Iowa State with 17 points. Craig Brackins added 13.
--Oklahoma has won 11 straight home games and 30 of its last 31 at Lloyd Noble Center. The Sooners are only 2-8 away from home this season.
--Handling adversity has not been one of Oklahoma's strengths. It has even caused coach Jeff Capel to address body language, both publicly and privately. "Good body language is you're always into it," said the Sooners coach. "There's a certain passion. There's a certain look. A look of determination. A look of, 'I'm going to do everything I can to help my team.'"
The message Capel was sending was mostly aimed at Willie Warren, a sophomore guard who was appointed as the Sooners' leader following the loss of All-American forward Blake Griffin off last season's Elite Eight team. Warren finally began accepting the message, but then was curtailed by a twisted ankle, which prevented him from playing Jan. 23 at Texas Tech, where the Sooners suffered a 75-65.
--Production from the frontcourt was spotty in Oklahoma's loss at Texas Tech on Jan. 23 and could become a growing concern if F Tiny Gallon cannot avoid foul trouble. The Sooners matched the Red Raiders on the boards with 40 rebounds, but starting forwards Ryan Wright and Andrew Fitzgerald combined for just seven points. Fitzgerald didn't score or rebound in the six minutes he played. Gallon contributed five points and four rebounds over 16 minutes.
--Lubbock remains a tough place for G Willie Warren. The sophomore missed the loss at Texas Tech after spraining his ankle in practice two days earlier. A year ago, Warren went scoreless against the Red Raiders in United Spirit Arena, playing just 12 minutes and missing all three shots he attempted.
ON THE SPOT: Oklahoma, more than anything, needs to figure out a way to win on the road. Yet, even if the Sooners fail to find a way, it doesn't look like free throw shooting will be the problem. The Sooners hit 16 of 23 at Texas A&M when 20 of 23 would have on the game. Since then, they've hit 33 of 39 or 84.6 percent, canning 18 of 22 at Texas Tech and 15 of 17 against Iowa State. If OU can continue to get to the line and make its shots once there, they might be able to steal a game or three on the Big 12 road.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We had chances to do things (at Texas Tech), but we would do something not too smart, foul on 3s and just the rebounding, letting them come in and get stuff. We didn't dive on the floor for loose balls. That also hurt." -- Oklahoma G Tony Crocker.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The Oklahoma defense was stingy enough to keep the Sooners in their previous four games before facing Iowa State on Jan. 27. In those games, they allowed 64.5 points on average with opponents shooting just 36.9 percent from the field. The Sooners managed to go 2-2 over that stretch, with none of the outcomes decided by more than 10 points. The defensive intensity is a marked improvement over the Big 12 opener, which Oklahoma lost 91-60 at Baylor.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Tiny Gallon, G Tony Crocker, G Cade Davis, G Willie Warren, G Tommy Mason-Griffin. Key Subs -- F Ryan Wright, F Andrew Fitzgerald, G Ray Willis, G Steven Pledger.
Oklahoma 66, Missouri 61
Texas A&M 65, Oklahoma 62
Texas Tech 75, Oklahoma 65
Oklahoma 89, Iowa State 84
at Nebraska, Saturday, Jan. 30
vs. Texas, Saturday, Feb. 6
vs. Texas Tech, Tuesday, Feb. 9
at Oklahoma State, Saturday, Feb. 13
N FOCUS: The trip to Nebraska on Jan. 30 affords the Sooners one of their best opportunities to claim a conference road win.
--G Tommy Mason-Griffin's 38 points against Iowa State is tied for the fifth most ever by a Big 12 freshman along with Baylor's LaceDarius Dunn, who scored 38 two seasons ago. Also two years ago, Kansas State's Michael Beasley established the top four marks.
--Freshman F Tiny Gallon continues to struggle. He fouled out at Texas Tech last Saturday, playing only 16 minutes and scoring five points with four rebounds. Against Iowa State, he committed just three fouls but only played 21 minutes as a result of ineffectiveness. He scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds, but also committed five of Oklahoma's nine turnovers.
Sooners Need Road Wins
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