Hoops: Sooners revved up for Aggies in OKC

The last time Oklahoma and Texas A&M matched-up, it was game between the No. 8 (OU) and No. 9 (Texas A&M) seeds in the Big 12 tournament. Neither team was expected to reach the NCAA tournament -- and neither team did -- but pride was at stake.
The Aggies were leaving the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference, and taking a guaranteed twice-yearly meeting between themselves and the Sooners with them. But 17 points and five boards from senior forward Romero Osby and 13 points, seven boards and four assists from senior point guard Sam Grooms couldn’t drive OU past Texas A&M.
Texas A&M ended OU’s season with a 62-53 loss in Kansas City, Mo. That loss sealed a third straight losing record for Oklahoma and a third straight season without an appearance in any tournament of any kind.
The Sooners (6-2) will have an opportunity to avenge that loss at 1 p.m. Saturday at Chesapeake Energy Arena in the All-College Classic, and make no mistake: Osby is looking toward this game with vengeance on his mind.
“Yeah, we owe them,” he said. “I think we’re 1-2 against them right now. So I’d like to end my series off with them 2-2.”
Osby has history with the Aggies. He watched Texas A&M and Oklahoma play as a prep player and was recruited to play at College Station, Texas, by then coach Billy Gillespie. He even made the trip to Texas during his recruitment, so he’s well acquainted. He’s also well acquainted with Aggie forward Ray Turner.
Standing 6-foot-9 and weighing 230 pounds, Turner is built to bang with Osby who averages 12.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game this season. Turner averages nearly identical numbers with 12.8 points and 6.3 boards per game.
“I’m excited to play against him,” Osby said. “I know he’s gonna go hard, and I’m not gonna back down. I’m gonna play him just as hard as I play everybody.”
Senior guard Elston Turner leads the Aggies in scoring with 16.3 points per game and has shot an outstanding 43.1 percent from 3-point range this season.
Six of OU’s eight games have been decided by seven points or fewer, and OU men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger’s men have won five of those games. While a close game bodes well for the Sooners against the Aggies, Kruger has an eye toward conference play next month.
He hopes his squad uses the lessons they’ve learned in the final minutes of those close games to win more Big 12 games than it did last season.
“They figured out some things there late and experienced some things there late that will help them hopefully again in Big 12 play,” Kruger said.
Texas A&M (7-1) will arrive in Oklahoma City having won its last four consecutive games, but the Sooners will be just the second power conference team the Aggies have faced all year. Grooms said the Sooners need to win this game -- their last against a power conference team.
“They beat us two out of three times last year,” Grooms said. “Still got a little salt in our mouths from that.”
The Classic is one of the oldest basketball tournaments in existence -- not even the NBA, NCAA tournament or National Invitational Tournament were formed before it. In the past, it has s featured NBA and collegiate greats like Wayman Tisdale, Pete Maravich, Elgin Baylor, Bill Russell and Nate Thurmond.
Oklahoma has played in every Classic for the last 29 years and for the last decade the Sooners and Oklahoma State have been a part of the Classic.
But not this year.
This season the Pokes are sitting out the Classic. OSU men’s basketball coach Travis Ford said the Cowboys will miss not playing in the tournament, but the logistics were too difficult to work out this season.
“People don’t realize how much goes into putting that on,” Ford said. “And then from a scheduling standpoint, basically three people gotta agree. We gotta agree to an opponent. ESPN wants to agree to an opponent … and then dates started to become a different problem.”
Ford hopes OSU will be back in the Classic next season.
If there were doubts about whether Kruger will allow freshmen guards Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield and Je'lon Hornbeak to play significant minutes during league play, he laid them to rest Monday.
“We’re playing people that earned the minutes that deserve to be out there, so that goes without saying,” Kruger said. “The experience they’re getting now does help them for Big 12 play, and they’re gonna be in there when we line up in January as well, so they might as well learn along the way.”
One of the things he wants them to learn is to play the game with passion and aggression. It’s one thing to chase after a loose balls, but it’s quite another to rip that ball away from a man every bit as committed as you claim to be.
“We have to be a little bit more genuine with our interest in putting our bodies on people and getting after loose balls and making stops,” he said.
But why, Coach? After all, you’ve said it’s not in some of your players’ nature to play physical basketball. Why work against Mother Nature rather than with her?
“It’s a physical game,” Kruger said. “Individually, we’ve got probably more personalities of finesse people. We’re not a big strapping team from a physical appearance, and we’re going to be playing against some big strong people.”
Oklahoma was abysmal from 3-point land last season against Texas A&M in the Big 12 tournament, hitting just 2 of 11 attempts from distance. Senior 2-guard Steven Pledger shot 0 for 4 from beyond the arc, but the Sooners will hope Pledger finds his shooting touch against the Aggies.
He’ll enter Saturday’s contest as the second best 3-point shooter in the Big 12, hitting 40 percent of his shots from 3-point range, yet he averages just 10.1 points per game. He averaged 10.9 points per game as a sophomore.
Pledger needs to drain three 3-pointers to pass Tony Crocker for fourth place on the school’s all-time 3-pointers list and needs two points to pass Terry Stotts for 29th all-time on the school’s scoring list.