Sooners slide continues; No. 7 seed in Big 12
Two weeks can change a lot in a college basketball season. For Oklahoma, it was all for the positive in January. But that feels like ages ago as the Sooners have hit the skids in a major way now in March.
Another hard-fought contest, for sure, but on the wrong end for the fourth straight time in a 69-65 loss to visiting No. 15 Texas on Thursday night in the season finale.
Two weeks ago, OU was No. 7 in the country. Next week? The Sooners will be the No. 7 seed in the Big 12 tournament, taking on Iowa State to begin things Wednesday in Kansas City.
At 14-9 overall and 9-8 in the Big 12 and five wins against top-15 teams this season, the Sooners inclusion in the NCAA tournament is not a question. Lon Kruger’s group is in, but the late-season slide is something OU fans have seen all too often around Norman and three of the four losses being to rivals Oklahoma State (twice) and Texas makes it sting just a little more.
If there’s an encouraging sign, it’s the simple fact OU hasn’t just laid an egg facing yet another unranked opponent. Trailing 44-34 at halftime and 49-37 early in the second half, the Sooners responded with a 17-4 run to take a 54-53 lead on an emphatic De’Vion Harmon dunk that had Lloyd Noble Center as loud as it’s been all season.
All that energy to come back, though, appeared to take a bit out of the team on both ends of the floor. The late-game offense stumbled again. And the defense, that was as lock down as it could get in January, couldn’t keep Texas from executing down the stretch.
“We have to correct it, for sure,” Kruger said. “Again, I think it’s to the point where we’re not getting it for 40 minutes. We have to treat each possession like we did most of those in the second half. I thought the guys were terrific in the second half. We didn’t play that way in the first.
“We have to figure out how to get that for 40 minutes. We have to keep working at it. Obviously on one hand there’s a lot of basketball left to play, on the other it is winding up quickly. We’ve got to do things with a little bit more urgency from the start.
A jolt of energy came for OU during that run from senior center Kur Kuath. After not playing in the first half because of Kruger’s decision, not an injury, Kuath was electric in the final 12 minutes.
He didn’t score, but he had three rebounds and two blocks and changed the complexion of the game with a legitimate inside presence for OU against Texas’ bigs.
“He was huge in the second half,” Kruger said. “He changed the game around, no question about that. Again, at times he’s done that on the year, and we need that, for sure.”
The Big 12 grind has been said repeatedly throughout the season, and it truly has been. The conference entered the week with seven teams in the top 18 of the AP poll. The Sooners made that jump in January after making history with back-to-back-to-back wins against top-10 teams (Kansas, at Texas, Alabama).
The Ws haven’t been there, but Kruger said he hasn’t seen a dip in the overall effort.
“The results are certainly different this last week than we’ve had before,” Kruger said. “I don’t know if our play is a lot different. We won some ball games. We won all those one-possession games in the three weeks prior to these last 10 days. These 10 days we haven’t. The margin is small. It’s one play here, one play there.
“I don’t think we’re playing much differently than when we won seven out of eight. We’ve got to finish games differently. Those games we did finish, these games we haven’t. We have to play better for 40 minutes, regardless.”
Austin Reaves led the way with 16 points, six rebounds and two steals. Alondes Williams and Brady Manek each pitched in with 13 points, while Harmon had 12 points and four assists.
*Kruger made it a point of emphasis in the pregame Zoom about Williams needing to become a bigger factor for the Sooners.
OU had been easing Williams back into things after missing time with COVID-19. Williams definitely looked the best he had in a long time, making big plays down the stretch.
“It felt good getting back in the groove again. It felt like my team needed me. I try to be an extra piece with them so we can have an extra push to it. So I just wanted to be a help.”
*Everybody knew the seventh seed in the conference tournament was still going to be an incredibly talented team. OU swept Iowa State in the regular season, and the win in Ames is actually the last time the Sooners earned a victory.