Defense has been a talking point for Oklahoma all season. They've shown from the jump they could score but seldom have the Sooners proven to be anything resembling a defensive stalwart.
The Sooners have scored 90 or more points six times this season but failed to keep their opponents from scoring at least 80 points eight times this season. Opponents average better than 78 points per game against. Wednesday night, they failed to play solid defense again, and this time it caught up with them.
SCOOPHD: NO DEFENSE FOR KU
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"This group is gonna battle, and we like that," said OU coach Lon Kruger. "We'll line up 16 more times and fight like crazy, but right now we feel down because we don't like the result."
Sooner senior Cameron Clark matched his career high for points in a game with 32 and sophomore guard Buddy Hield finished with 18 but only two other Sooner players notched double figures scoring -- barely.
Freshman Jordan Woodard scored 10 points and senior Tyler Neal finished with 11. Sophomore guard Isaiah Cousins played 29 minutes and made just one shot all night. Sophomore forward Ryan Spangler finished with as many points as he had fouls (4).
"We caught a break, obviously," KU coach Bill Self said. "Spangler never had a chance to get in rhythm because of fouls."
The Jayhawks were prepared for OU's four-guard lineup. They switched on most plays and matched the Sooner speed step-for-step with a smaller lineup that featured 6-foot-8 wings in KU forwards Perry Ellis and Andrew Wiggins who were ready for the challenge.
"We knew we had to defend," Ellis said. "They have a lot of good scorers, and we knew we really had to hunker down and defend, and we did really well."
The Jayhawks were in complete control of the game for the first 10 minutes of the game. They'd begun the game hitting 10-of-12 shots from the floor, and Kansas freshman Wayne Selden had taken it upon himself to lead the surge.
Selden started the game averaging just 8.5 points per game, but through the first eight minutes he'd already scored 13 points. He ended the first half with 15 points.
Ellis was the only other man to score in double figures in the first 20 minutes for the Jayhawks. He had 13 and was getting most of what he wanted beneath the basket.
KU knew it had size on the Sooners but wasn't intent on using it until late. The Jayhawks dug themselves a hole -- filled with fouls -- and put OU in the bonus with fewer than 12 minutes left in the first half. But the hole wasn't deep enough for the Sooners to bury KU.
The Jayhawks finished the first half with an 11-1 scoring run and held a 50-44 lead at halftime. With the start of the second half, KU looked like a team who was taking advantage of the clean slate Self had given them.
He asked his team to forget about their 9-4 non-conference record, that they'd fallen from their No. 5 ranking in the preseason to No. 18 in the second week of January -- seven spots from being ousted from the poll completely. The Big 12 season was to be a new season with an abbreviated 18-game schedule, and Oklahoma was the first team on that schedule.
Selden continued his previously unseen offensive surge in the second half. He finished with 24 points.
Ellis took advantage of Spangler's being on the bench and OU's passiveness underneath the basket. He had 22. Kansas point guard Naadir Tharpe though, he proved the difference.
After scoring just four points and picking up three fouls in the first half, Tharpe turned into the closer Self needed him to become with the NCAA tournament just two months away.
"He (Tharpe) hasn't had many opportunities to put himself in position to be a closer, but I thought he did tonight," Self said.
Oklahoma knows who to pass to with the game on the line this season, and Clark tried to win this game for his team. He tried to will the Sooners to a victory when he knocked down a step-back jumper with 1:55 left to play to pull within four, but the Sooners couldn't get enough stops to win.
"It all starts on defense," Clark said. "Defense wins games, and we just have to come together as a group and figure out what it is we're not doing and get better at it."