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November 16, 2012

Hoops Notebook: Sooners hit the road to take on UTA

Oklahoma men's basketball game at 7 pm tonight against Texas-Arlington is their first of five games in 13-day road trip. But this ain't no Jack Kerouac novel.

After visiting Arlington, the Sooners will play three games in four days in Orlando, Fla., as a part of the Old Spice Classic and have a Nov. 28, date with Oral Roberts in Tulsa.

The Mavericks are the first regular season team the Sooners (1-0) will face that won at least 20 games last season. UTA (1-0) also reached the first round of the 2012 National Invitational Tournament and return three starters from last year's squad.

SCOOPHD: SOONERS GET SET FOR ROAD OPENER


The last time the Sooners played a road game this early in a season, they traveled to East Lansing to do battle against Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans - a 67-55 loss on Nov. 14, 2001.

OU men's basketball coach Lon Kruger would have liked to have played more games at home early, but when UTA called and asked the Sooners to be their homecoming opponent in the Mavericks' home opener at 10-month-old College Park Center, he obliged.

"We might regret that at some point, but it's a good challenge and it'll be good for our guys," Kruger said.

Down 60-59 with 34.6 seconds left, the Mavericks eked out a 62-60 victory in their season opener against Cal State Bakersfield. Senior forward Jordan Reeves led Texas-Arlington with 13 points and 14 rebounds.

The Mavericks will likely rely on Reeves and junior guard Jamel Outler to carry the scoring load against the Sooners.

Reeves present a challenge the undersized Sooners will face more often than not this season. Standing 6-foot-10 and weighing 240 pounds, he is as tall as OU's tallest man and heavier than the heaviest Sooner.

Kruger said Reeves was tough for the Sooners to prepare for because they just don't have anyone who matches his dimensions. He plans on a physical effort from his post players against Reeves with other players around him to help on the defensive end of the court.

"It's a hard thing to simulate because we don't have anybody that big," Kruger said. "240 is probably more conservative because he's a big guy and he moves very well. He's not a slow guy at all. He's got good action, good lateral movement."

Senior forward Romero Osby will likely be on Reeves duty for most of the game. At 6-foot-8, Osby admitted he's shorter than Reeves but isn't intimidated by him.

"I may be a few inches shorter, but usually when somebody big is guarding me I've got the quickness advantage on him," he said. "I'm going to try to use that and really not focus on what he's doing."

NEW TO THE ROAD

Freshmen guards Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield and Je'lon Hornbeak are expected to play significant minutes in Arlington but this will be their first road contest at the collegiate level. Junior forward Amath M'Baye hasn't played a road game since Mar. 5, 2011.

No one knows how those four newcomers will react to their first taste of a hostile collegiate environment, but Osby is doing his best to prepare them. He emphasized the importance of playing strongly and taking care of the ball at Wednesday's practice.

"It's tough," Osby said. "You're on their home floor. You've got to be strong with the basketball - they'll be allowed to do a little more pushing and shoving than we will. You've got to be mentally tough, and you've got start creating that atmosphere in practice."

Kruger admitted not knowing how the newcomers will respond to a new atmosphere, but he hopes their attitude and play during practice, scrimmages and home games will transfer to OU's game against UTA.

"You never know until you do it a few times what to expect from new guys, but we expect them to play well." Kruger said. "These guys have played a lot of basketball in tough environments. But, again, they haven't done it at the college level and this will be the first trip for that."

VETERAN LEADERSHIP

Oklahoma not only boasts a valuable senior class but a productive one. Four of this year's seniors were starters last season, and they made their presence known against ULM.

Osby and senior forward Andrew Fitzgerald combined for 21 points and 13 rebounds. Senior point guard Sam Grooms dropped five dimes in 14 minutes on the court while senior 2-guard Steven Pledger hit 5-of-10 shot attempts.

Kruger understands claiming a crop of talented seniors is becoming a luxury in the one-and-done era of men's college hoops.

"It is important because, a lot of times, guys don't stay around for four years, and we have five seniors," he said. "That experience, whether it be starting or coming off the bench, is valuable."

With 74 starts, Fitzgerald has started the most games of any Sooner on the roster, but not one of those starts came during the preseason or in OU's season opener.

Kruger admitted he thinks most players would like to start, including Fitzgerald, but Fitzgerald's role off the bench was a large part of the Sooners' success last Sunday and could be a larger part of their success over the course of the season.

"Drew understands that depth is the strength of our team," Kruger said. "Emotionally, he's handled it very well and he's played well in games to this point and we expect that to continue."

PLEDGER MOVES UP IN RECORD BOOK

Pledger played a quiet preseason, scoring just 18 points with nine points coming from beyond the arc. Still, he found his shooting touch in the Sooners' home opener against Louisiana-Monroe.

Those five 3-pointers Pledger sunk were enough for him to pass former Sooner Cade Davis for fifth on Oklahoma's all-time 3-point field goals list.

Pledger also passed Davis with less shot attempts. Davis finished his college career with 181 3-pointers on 531 3-point attempts. Pledger has taken 489 3-point attempts heading into OU's game against Texas-Arlington.

Pledger sits at 183 3-pointers for his career and needs 16 more 3-point shots to fall to pass former Sooner Tony Crocker for fourth on the all-time list.

Former Sooner and Central Oklahoma coach Terry Evans has drained the most 3-pointers in school history with 259.

Cousins admitted he's still learning to play point guard at the collegiate level but is actively looking for Pledger in open space. He gave a brief example of that, finding Pledger on the wing with a no-look, behind-the-back pass at practice Wednesday for an open 3-pointer.

"I just try to look around and see where my shooter's at because as a point guard you've got to know who is next to you and where you can get that assist or if you can attack and then dish out," he said.

EARLY BIRD SIGNINGS

Kruger signed three players to letters of intent Wednesday. Edmond (Okla.) Memorial point guard Jordan Woodard, Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College forward Dominique Elliott and Labette (Kan.) Community College forward Keshaun Hamilton will join Oklahoma for the 2013-14 campaign.

The Sooners are reportedly still in the hunt for Plano (Texas) Prestonwood Christian forward Julius Randle, Rivals.com's class of 2013 No. 2 recruit in the country.

Woodard headlines the early signing period class and could become a viable third point guard for the Sooners during next year. He led Edmond Memorial to a 53-3 record over the past two years and the 2011 Class 6A title.

He averaged 13.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 steals as a junior. At 6-foot, 170 pounds, Kruger believes Woodard is capable of consistently scoring baskets while serving as OU's floor general.

"He's just a point guard that's terrific at running his team and can become a big-time scorer as well," Kruger said. "He'll score a lot this year for Edmond Memorial and will be a great addition to our program."

Elliott could be another helpful addition to OU's program. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound sophomore has the athleticism needed to play in the low post against Big 12 competition.

He's averaged 11.4 points and 9.0 rebounds in five games this season at Trinity Valley.

"Dominique is in the lines of a mobile four man who can run the floor and provide versatility in terms of handling the ball and attacking off the dribble and making plays for others," Kruger said.

Standing 6-foot-10 and weighing 270 pounds, Hamilton will likely provide the kind of sheer size Oklahoma hasn't had on its roster in some time. He's also left-handed.

Before an anterior cruciate ligament tear ended his season last year, Hamilton averaged 7.4 points and 7.3 rebounds in 14 games as freshman last season at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla.

"He's got a good soft touch and good hands around the goal," Kruger said. "We feel like he's going to make progress every day that he's here and bring that low post scoring that we haven't had a lot of."


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