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January 11, 2014

Sooners face quick turnaround on the hardwood

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The Sooners' strengths and weaknesses were magnified on Wednesday night, and it's become apparent that their strength alone won't be enough to earn them wins against the class of the Big 12 in 2014.

OU hosts Iowa State at 11 a.m. Saturday at Lloyd Noble Center, and the Cyclones, like Kansas, are too good of a squad to be beaten by anything other than a complete basketball team. They are 14-0 for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is their ability to create shots for each other.

SCOOPHD: NO DEFENSE FOR KU


Video by Eddie Radosevich

ISU ranks first in the country in assists per game (19.1) and is tied for sixth in the nation -- with Oklahoma -- in average points scored per game (87.0), so OU won't be able to simply out-score or outrun the Cyclones. They'll have to play defense, and playing defense has been the Sooners' weakness.

Scoring at the expense of sound defense is a problem Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger foreshadowed at the beginning of the season. He warned his team against it, warned them that they could get beat if they weren't diligent about staying in front of the ball.

"What's crazy is Coach [Kruger] told us at the first of the year, we're going to score and run, run and score," said sophomore forward Ryan Spangler. "The guys that do that don't play defense. We don't want to do that, and we're doing that right now. We gotta find a way to turn that around, still score but play defense."

When the Sooners showed early that they weren't playing well in Kruger's traditional man-to-man brand of defensive basketball, he tried other schemes -- zones, presses and combinations of the two -- that fit his undersized if quick roster. But they haven't taken, and Kruger's still searching for an answer.

"I don't know that we've had a team quite like this," Kruger said. "That we've bounced around so much, and, at this point in the season, don't really have a positive defensive identity. We've got an identity, just not a positive one."

Oklahoma followed its first conference victory in Austin, Texas, in eight years with a loss against No. 18 Kansas at home. However, it wasn't for lack of scoring.

The Sooners forced 14 turnovers and picked up six steals but were beaten badly on the boards. The Jayhawks had 36 rebounds. OU pulled down 22.

"We played in spurts. We can't play in spurts," said senior guard Cameron Clark. "We have been talking about that all year. That is kind of our identity right now, and we have got to change that. We were knocking down shots, but we couldn't get stops or rebounds."

For the second time against ranked competition, Clark notched 32 points in a loss, and though he received some help with scoring -- notably from sophomore Buddy Hield -- his effort alone wasn't enough to do more than scare the Jayhawks for a few minutes.

"It's very frustrating," Clark said following the loss. "We just have to go back to the drawing board."

The Sooners were not beaten by guard play, even though KU guard Wayne Selden finished with 24 points and point guard Naadir Tharpe scored 17. They weren't beaten by the freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins, as Wiggins finished with just nine points.

Oklahoma wasn't even beaten by Kansas' size. It was beaten by its own big men -- men who either didn't play well or got into foul trouble too early and too often to impact the game.

Spangler started the game as the only forward on the floor for the Sooners ended the game with one of the worst nights of his career at OU. At the start of the game, he was averaging better than 11 points and nine boards per game.

Against Kansas, Spangler never found a rhythm and notched just three rebounds and four of OU's 83 points.

"I hadn't been in foul trouble all year, but it just wasn't going my way last night," he said.

If the Sooners are to make a run at No. 9 Iowa State on Saturday, Spangler will have to play a big part in the game. And as much he'd like to score points against the Cyclones, the Sooners need Spangler to be the defensive and rebounding presence in the post they didn't have against KU.

"They can hurt you from all positions," he said. "We gotta start it off with a guy guarding the ball, be sunk in, help him out, and I think we'll be fine."



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