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February 27, 2013

As Sam Grooms' confidence grows, so does his scoring

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Baylor men's basketball coach Scott Drew walked into the interview room at Lloyd Noble after losing to Oklahoma for the second time in less than month, and opened with an apology to Bears fans for what he called the worst job of coaching he'd done all year.

Drew gave credit where credit was due -- to the Sooners, to their coaching staff -- and then lamented the manner in which he was beaten. Certainly, he didn't mean to put the Sooners on the charity stripe 45 times, and, even if he did, he didn't expect OU to hit 39 free throws.

And he most certainly didn't expect senior point guard Sam Grooms to score the bulk of his career-high 23 points at the line.


"We know Sam Grooms came in shooting 44 percent from the free throw line, I believe, in conference and he shot 15-of-17," Drew said. "Hats off to him."

Grooms is in the midst of the best offensive stretch of his career at Oklahoma. Just ask him.

"It's probably the best I've played since junior college," Grooms said.


Grooms has always been a pass-first point guard, looking for the best scoring opportunities for the four men on the floor with him, but he proved he could score before he stepped foot on campus in Norman.

He was ranked as the No. 3 junior college player in the country following the 2010-11 season by JucoRecruiting.com, and it was considered a coup for Sooner men's basketball coach Lon Kruger to sign him.

Grooms turned down offers from North Carolina, Illinois, Oklahoma State -- even Baylor.

He started a total of 50 games at Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., during his two seasons there and left averaging 11.1 points, 5.9 assists and 3.4 boards per game. Grooms was playing confident basketball on a team that finished the season 25-6 and with a league title in hand.

Then, with the start of the 2011-12 season, his confidence vanished.

He hit just 35.0 percent of his shots last season and 66.3 percent of his free throw attempts. When Big 12 teams figured out he was no threat to shoot, to score, they didn't defend him.

"It was hard," Grooms said. "I knew I could make shots -- I knew I could. But at the same token I second-guessed myself all the time before I shot it, so it didn't turn out well."

He showed flashes of the kind of dynamic player he could be against Missouri last year when he scored 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting and dropped 10 dimes while committing just two turnovers.

After losing freshman guard Buddy Hield to injury on Feb. 11, OU was going to need scoring.


Grooms averaged 6.7 points as a junior and could average less than that this season.

Even after an outburst of 53 points over the last three games, Grooms averages just 4.3 points per game. He scored just 54 points in his first 22 games this season.

In fact, Grooms might be the reason the Sooners have increased the number of points they've scored in each of their last seven games; a streak that began with 50 points scored against Kansas State Feb. 2, and has run strong through OU's most recent 90 points scored against Baylor.

The Sooners probably won't be able to keep topping their previous game's score, but Grooms could conceivably keep scoring at a high rate. The points he's scored haven't been forced, haven't been out of the flow of the offense.

Rather, teams have continued to dare Grooms to take wide open shots, and after 53 games as a Sooner, he's decided to accept their challenge.

"I think the big key with Sam is he knocked down a couple shots, which made the defense play him honest," Kruger said. "If the defense doesn't have to honor a jumper at all, then they don't have to get up there and he can't go by them, and he can't do what he can do.

"Sam making a couple jumpers was huge to him not just his confidence but making the defense play him. Now it's 5-on-5 and instead of 5-on-4 out there."

That confidence was nurtured at practice.

When Grooms hit a shot, he was encouraged to take another. But even when he missed a shot, he was encouraged by OU assistant coach Lew Hill, among others, to take another.

Hill said it's been a slow process to help make Grooms a more capable scorer. During that process, Grooms has shown himself to be a great shot selector.

"He's taking really, really good shots," Hill said. "It's the shots that you take that makes you a good shooter. He's taking shots he can make."

Over the last three games, Grooms has hit 16-of-28 shot attempts, a 57.1 percent clip. His raised shooting percentage is one of many reasons the Sooners are just two games shy of the first 20-win season of Kruger's tenure.

Another? Timing.

"He's doing it right now, and he's doing it at a good time," Hill said. "Going down that stretch, going for an NCAA run, what's better to have than your point guard doing what he needs to do? It's beautiful."

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