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November 22, 2012

Notebook: Sooners best players might be bench players

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Oklahoma men's basketball coach Lon Kruger has said since preseason the starting lineup is by no means set, and he maintained in the postgame press conference in Arlington the starting lineup could change as the season progresses.

And it might, but probably not this evening against Texas-El Paso at 6 p.m. at the HP Field House when the Sooners (2-0) open tournament play in the Old Spice Classic.

The lineup Kruger used to close out the Sooners' second game of the season wasn't the lineup he used to start the game.

SCOOPHD: RJ Young and Eddie Radosevich preview the Old Spice Classic

Since the win, Kruger has taken the approach that all is well that ends well and said he doesn't expect to change the starting lineup he's used all season when the Sooners face UTEP (1-1) and will continue to play 10 to 11 men throughout the Classic.

"I imagine we'll start the same way, but again minutes are gonna be all over the board," Kruger said. "Like you say, guys off the bench came in and did a good job against Arlington. Buddy picked us up in the first half, and made a lot of big plays for us."

While Kruger was still able to run 10 players through the rotation for significant minutes -- no player who entered the game played fewer than 13 minutes -- Texas-Arlington countered Kruger's tactical substitutions with a late scoring surge.

UTA pushed the Sooners in a manner the Sooners were not able to push themselves in scrimmages and more than other teams were able to push them during preseason play. The Mavericks created an environment where Kruger had to put his best five players on the floor to win .

Those players were senior point guard Sam Grooms, freshman guard Je'lon Hornbeak, senior 2-guard Steven Pledger, junior forward Amath M'Baye and senior forward Romero Osby. Not coincidentally these players all lead the Sooners in some statistical category.

  • Baye leads the Sooners in rebounding with 9.0 boards per game and is tied for fourth among Big 12 players.
  • Pledger leads the league in made 3-point field-goals.
  • Grooms leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio 7.0
  • Hornbeak leads the Sooners in steals and is tied for fifth among Big 12 players.
  • Osby leads the Sooners in blocked shots and is tied for fifth among Big 12 players, averaging 2.0 blocks per game.

Only Oklahoma's leading scorer, freshman guard Buddy Hield, was not on the court presumably because he hadn't -- and did not -- score in the second half.

OLD SPICE CLASSIC PREVIEW

Oklahoma only hit 5-of-22 shot attempts during the second half of its 63-59 win against Texas-Arlington en route to its worst shooting performance on the road in three years.

The Sooners likely won't be able to endure another second half slump like the one they suffered against the Mavericks at the Classic. Oklahoma will need to find its shooting stroke early and often if it is going to make a run at an early season tournament title.

The Classic is an eight-team tournament featuring three 25-win teams from last season. If the Sooners defeat UTEP, they'll face the winner of No. 17 Gonzaga vs. Clemson at 6:30 p.m. on Friday. If not, they'll face the loser of No. 17 Gonzaga vs. Clemson at 4:30 p.m. on Friday.

The Miners were thumped 72-51 by No. 10 Arizona last week but rolled up Oral Roberts 69-49 to begin their season. The Sooners face ORU on Nov. 28 to end their five-game road trip.

UTEP ended last season 15-17 but is looking to assert itself early this season with the help of brothers Chris Washburn and Julian Washburn. The Washburns have averaged a combined 23.5 points and six rebounds in the Miners' first two games of the season.

With only three seniors on the roster, the Miners lack experience. Nine of their 14 players are underclassmen. But UTEP does have length with seven miners listed at 6-foot-7 or taller.

"They play three big guys in there," Kruger said. "You've got two really active guards on the perimeter that start."

Junior center John Bohannon stands 6-foot-10 and is averaging 8.5 points, 2.5 boards and 2.0 blocks per game. Bohannon scored 17 points against ORU but was held scoreless in 21 minutes against Arizona.

HIELD EXCITED TO SEE FAMILY

Hield might be the most thankful of the Sooners during the Classic as he will have an opportunity to see his immediate family in Orlando, Fla., some of whom he hasn't seen in 17 months.

Nine members of Hield's family, which includes seven brothers and sisters, are making the trip from Freeport, Bahamas. Hield is the fifth of his parents' eight children.

"I know my family will be there watching, so that will be fun," Hield said. "It's gonna give me a lot of energy because I don't want to disappoint them."

Hield will no doubt want to put on a scoring display for his family. He certainly has the required skill set to get buckets.

He leads the Sooners in scoring, averaging 13 points per game and has acted as the fuse to OU's offense in its second game against UTA. Hield has yet to start a game, but that doesn't matter to him.

For him, OU basketball is about doing whatever is needed to help his team win.

"It doesn't matter if I start or not," Hield said. "I just do what I need to do to help the team whether that's coming off the bench to score, defend. Just help the team win every game."



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