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December 15, 2012
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Junior guard Cameron Clark wiped the sweat from his face while taking questions from local media in the interview room at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Sandwiched between senior forward Romero Osby and Oklahoma men's basketball coach Lon Kruger, Clark was just cooling down from his most prolific offensive outing of the season -- from the power forward position.
Clark scored 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting and claimed MVP honors at the All-College Classic in OU's 64-54 victory against Texas A&M.
"I felt pretty comfortable down there," Clark said. "Attacking the bigs, moving the ball to my teammates, getting open shots, it was good."
Osby scored 19 points in the game to lead all scorers, but it was Clark who provided a much needed spark from the bench Saturday afternoon.
"Texas A&M is known for being real physical," Osby said. "Their big guys get real low, and Ray Turner, he kind of sets the tone for that team. Coach has been getting on us about being more physical and really attacking."
Aggies (7-2) coach Billy Kennedy acknowledged seeing a tough, grinding Sooners squad on the court.
"I think they were more physical, and I think they were more athletic and deeper. When Cameron Clark came in and played a 4, or something that he hadn't done a whole lot this year and make shots like he made, that makes a tough matchup."
Knowing they were in for a physical game, Kruger and the staff spent time working on changing the attitude and mindset of OU basketball. Kruger began Wednesday's practice by beckoning his players and staff into a huddle on the OU insignia of the men's basketball gym at Lloyd Noble Center.
Kruger set the tone for Sooners' 90 minute, early morning practice with a speech just after the players (7-2) concluded warm-ups. These speeches are usually short on rhetoric and lean on sentiment, but Kruger spoke a bit longer than he normally does that day.
He emphasized the want to "get better," the need to become a much more physical and strong team. Kruger knows next month will test the mettle of this team of finesse and perimeter-oriented players, of jump shooters.
Assistant coach Lew Hill didn't hesitate to let the players know what he, what the entire coaching staff, was looking for that day.
"Everything is aggressive," he said.
Perhaps he was talking to Clark.
Kruger experimented with Clark at the power forward position, running four guards on the floor with Osby during finals week at OU.
Clark responded by challenging his teammates to put a hand in his face while he hit 15- and 18-footers, and soared above them to meet an alley-oop or throw down an energy charging dunk.
"Cam's activity, I think, was fantastic," Kruger said. "He's had a really good week of practice. Attacking, knocking down jumpers there, getting to the rim a couple times."
Clark also pulled his weight defensively against the Aggie forwards and help hold Texas A&M to just 40 percent from the floor.
The Sooners have proven they can be aggressive in the past; 27 fouls against West Virginia; holding Arkansas' BJ Young to 10 points on 4 of 12 shooting; scoring points in bunches; coming back to win close games late. But OU allowed Texas A&M's Elston Turner, a knockdown shooter, to score 10 points in the first half. He finished with 17 points in the game.
The Sooners turned the ball over seven times in the first 20 minutes but forced eight Aggie turnovers as well. Still, OU led Texas A&M 28-27 at halftime.
OU took timely charges in the second half, one each coming from freshmen guard Je'lon Hornbeak and Steven Pledger. They scrapped for second chance opportunities in the paint. When they didn't score buckets off those chances, they forced Texas A&M to foul them.
Aggressive, physical basketball can be repugnantly effective.
With less than 10 minutes to play and the game tied at 41-41, the Sooners mounted an 8-0 run to give themselves a 49-41 lead -- their largest of the game.
"You've got give Oklahoma the credit," Kennedy said. "They were bigger and more athletic than some of the teams we've played in the past. They sped us up."
In past games, the Sooners have faded down the stretch with a large lead, and continued to play hardnosed defense until the final whistle. That's something they haven't done in the past, and something they'll need to do again come January.