The Norman Transcript

December 19, 2013

Sooners playing dangerous defensive game

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Winning is what matters most, but Oklahoma left Lloyd Noble Center on Tuesday night knowing its defensive performance in 91-89 victory Texas-Arlington was a recipe for disaster.

OU coach Lon Kruger called the win “fortunate,” and there really isn’t a different way to describe it. That’s way you feel when you give up 89 points and your opponent has a wide open jumper at the buzzer to send it to over time.

The tempo the Sooners want to play at means they’re going to give up a lot of points. But it’s the shooting percentage, opponents shooting at 42.7 percent, that leaves a lot to be desired.

The Mavericks’ guards had no problem getting in the paint. When that happens, the options are endless. Shooters are open on the perimeter and forwards have nothing between them and the rim.

That kind of situation is something OU has faced over and over again the last two games.

“It’s been a struggle all year long,” Kruger said. “We have been making a little bit of progress at it. We probably need to give them credit, but still, we need to work a little harder. (It makes it tougher) when they’re so quick and can shoot the 3. That’s the toughest of matchups when you have to kind of press up a little bit to contest the 3 and they can also go by you. We just have to work harder at it, maintain our battles and play back and still try to be as aggressive as possible.”

The lack of defensive aggression is something most teams are dealing with. The regular season is only a third of the way through. All are trying to adjust the NCAA’s emphasis on creating a free-flowing game with less hand contact. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stay in front of your man and put a hand in his face when he shoots.

Buddy Hield scored 19 points and Cameron Clark poured in 31, but the defense — or lack of it — was their concern.

“As leaders, Cam and I need to do a better job of getting our guys to slide our feet. Me, I am always on the ball, so I have to come out more and pressure the ball more,” Hield said. “We have to find a way to stop guys from penetrating in the paint. We need to start being more aggressive and stop being tentative on defense.”

Nonetheless, OU is 10-1 as it prepares to face Texas A&M (8-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Toyota Center in Houston. The ability to score has carried the Sooners to where they are.

But playing at a truly highly level — competing for a Big 12 title and making a deep run in the NCAA tournament — requires stellar play on both ends.

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

jshinn@normantranscript.com

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