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January 22, 2014

Clark and Hield scoring brings confidence to others

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No. 25 Oklahoma won't play one of the five other ranked teams in the Big 12 this week, but winning against Texas Christian at 8 p.m. on Wednesday at Lloyd Noble won't be any easier than it has been since the New Year arrived.

Lon Kruger has said how competitive the league is this year and most of its coaches agree with him. But the conference is only as good as its weakest team.

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For now, TCU is that team.

The Horned Frogs are 0-5 in conference play, and they weren't very good last year. But they were good enough to beat league champ Kansas and Oklahoma in Fort Worth, Texas, a year ago.

This season TCU has held 12 teams to fewer than 70 points and nine to under 65. It allows just 68.1 points per game.

If they catch Oklahoma flat, they could earn their first conference win of 2014. The Sooners can't afford to overlook the Horned Frogs.

"You can't even stop to think like that," said OU coach Lon Kruger. "We've gotta think, like we do about every game, exactly the same way, and that's the way we try to prepare. Our practices aren't any different from one team that's ranked versus another team that's not."

Oklahoma, which averages nearly 85 points per game, is one of the 10 best scoring teams in basketball. Against No. 24 Baylor last Saturday though, it hardly looked like one.

The Sooners, down six points at halftime, managed to come from behind and eke out a two-point victory in Waco, Texas. They shot poorly, and they defended only marginally better.

It was the second straight game the Sooners scored just 66 points, but there was a difference between how those points were scored against BU in a win and how they were scored against No. 22 Kansas State in a loss.

Against KSU, freshman point guard Jordan Woodard wasn't on the floor when the game was in the balance. Against Baylor, he was. His made free throws secured the victory against the Bears.

Against KSU, senior Cameron Clark endured one of his worst games of the season. He scored just two points on 1-of-9 shooting and didn't get to the foul line at all. Against Baylor, he came on strong in the second half and finished with 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting.

Against the Wildcats, sophomore Buddy Hield was the only man not named Ryan Spangler to score double digits in the loss. But he took nearly twice as many shots (16 attempts) as Spangler (nine attempts) and hit just five of them.

His bad shooting bled over into the first half of the game against Baylor, and then he caught fire. He went from zero points to becoming the game's leading with 19 on 7-of-11 shooting in just 20 minutes of basketball.

Hield and Clark finished with a combined 33 points against Baylor. That's half of OU's point total.

Sitting on one side of Kruger following the game against Baylor, Hield said his confidence never waivered. The team believes in him, and, to win, it knows he has to score.

"I'm always a confident shooter, and my teammates are always encouraging me," Hield said. "I got a little spurt going, but it's all thanks to my teammates finding me in open spots, giving me that confidence to make shots."

Hield and Clark are the cogs that make the Sooner scoring wheel turn. When the Sooners played then-No.1 ranked Michigan State to a close game, it was because Clark took the game over, scoring a career-high 32 points. Clark has the most 30-point games in the Big 12 with three.

When Clark had an off night against Texas, OU won in Austin, Texas, for the first time in eight years because Hield took ownership of OU's scoring with 22 points. The Sooner bench combined for just 22 points in the same game.

When Clark and Hield make shots, when they're seeing the basket go into the net at a reasonable rate, the rest of the team joins in the fun. Senior Tyler Neal likened watching Clark and Hield having the effect of being contagious for the team.

"That confidence kind of bleeds into the rest of the guys, especially when Buddy and Cam, you know they're going to be taking most of our shots," said Neal. "So when they're hitting shots that's a good sign because obviously our leading scorers are scoring, and then we can all kind of see that and get going as well.



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