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April 1, 2014

Kruger's squad needs to be more phsyical

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Just five days before the Final Four play in Arlington (Texas), Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger met with local media to discuss the Sooners' season, a season that ended two weeks ago.

For the second year in a row, OU was selected to participate in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. And for the second year in a row, the squad was knocked out in its opening game of competition.

SCOOPHD: LON KRUGER REVIEWS SOONERS SEASON


The Sooners ended the season with two consecutive losses, including one as the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tournament.

Kruger described the process following the end of the season as depressing and disappointing for his players. He also noted those emotions are common and natural given they had higher expectations for themselves.

"It's kind of process you go through there when the season ends," he said. "It's a good group, and they'll bounce back well and prepare to have an improved season next year."

Kruger certainly has better starting point to begin his offseason regimen than last year. The Sooners won three more games this season than they did in 2012-13.

They return four starters who will only be juniors next year. Losing former Sooner and the team's second leading scorer, Cameron Clark, will hurt.

But Kruger's encouraged by the strides players like Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler made this year.

Following a year on the bench due to NCAA transfer rules, Spangler emerged as the Sooners' most dominant post player, and, at times, their most critical player.

Spangler averaged 9.6 points and 9.3 boards in his first season as a Sooner. Still, the Sooners lacked a back-to-the-basket scoring threat.

After losing his job as OU's starting point guard last year, Cousins showed in his sophomore season he could become a dependable wing player on team that shot 38 percent from 3-point land and won a lot of games with the trey as its primary weapon.

That was also a problem for the Sooners. OU steadily relied on its ability to shoot rather than attack the basket.

"We got pretty one-dimensional late," Kruger said. "The results were still OK through the last month of the season, but we leaned on the 3 more it seemed like late. We stopped attacking.

"We stopped getting the ball in the paint as much, not that we ever got it in there a lot but as much as we did earlier. We gotta get it in there more. We gotta be more balanced inside outside."

So does Buddy Hield.

Hield spent much of last year's offseason learning to hit shots from long range. Kruger and his staff helped him not only become more accurate but quicker getting the ball off beyond the arc.

It was that improvement that led him to become OU's leading scorer.

Problem is, Hield became too reliant on his ability to shoot 39 percent from 3-point range. He forgot about his ability to drive toward the basket, create shots for others and finish at the rim.

He forgot he set the third best mark by a freshman in school history -- just ahead of former Sooner Hollis Price -- at the free throw line, shooting 83.3 percent. He forgot he's most dangerous when teams have to guard against his all-around game, not just his jumper.

"Buddy became a standstill shooter," Kruger said, "and the year before he was much more of a slasher, much more aggressive to the offensive boards. So we need to combine the two."

Perhaps, Hield's already diagnosed this problem. Kruger said Hield has been in the gym nearly every day since the season ended.

Even during Kruger's interview on Monday afternoon, Hield was working out behind him.

No doubt Hield is paying attention to those teams playing in the semifinal of the national championship. Those teams that ran the gauntlet of their respective regionals and ended one game away from the dream all 345 Division I teams began with last November.

He'll notice, as Kruger has, they all have in bunches what OU seemed to lack for most of the season.

"We gotta be more physical," Kruger said. "We gotta be tougher to loose balls, 50-50 balls, all those things. We became a skill group as opposed to a blue collar, gritty group.

"Look at who's playing in the tournament right now. Obviously, they're skilled, but they're very physical and very tough."



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