NORMAN — There was a very odd occurrence in the final minute of Oklahoma’s 88-72 victory over Baylor Saturday night. The Sooners cleared their bench, sending walk-ons James Frashcilla, C.J. Cole, Austin Mankin, Daniel Harper and Trey Slate in for the final minute.
The 21st-ranked Sooners (18-6, 7-4) hadn’t been able to do that since December. The previous 10 conference games had all been decided by 12 points or less and nine by single digits.
“All but tonight and (the 88-76 Bedlam victory Jan. 27) have gone down to the last minute in conference play. We expect that. We expect the next seven to be exactly like that,” OU coach Lon Kruger said.
Saturday’s game did not because OU shot a season-high 53.6 percent from the field and made a season-high 14 3-pointers.
In terms of making jump shots, it likely was one of the best performances in school history. OU only scored 16 points in the paint and were 14 for 19 from the free-throw line. It scored 58 points off jumpers and cruised to its most lopsided victory since a 78-56 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
But it was the outside shooting that kicked into overdrive against the Bears. Guards Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, who scored a career-high 21 points, and forward Cameron Clark were a combined 20 for 29 from the field and 10 for 15 from 3-point range.
It was the kind of night the Sooners needed to beat a team like Baylor. They were greatly outsized and it was difficult to get to the basket in the half-court offense. Forward Ryan Spangler, who entered the game averaging 11.1 points a game, only took two shots and did not score.
“Their zone is so long and it’s tough,” Kruger said. “If you’re not making shots, it can be a long night.”
But can OU get away with being that outside-shooting centric the rest of the season? Historically and statistically, the answer is an emphatic no.
Teams have to be able to score in the paint to consistently win. Getting Spangler, who is just 14 for 35 from the field over the last five games, going is essential for OU to rise above its current third-place standing in the Big 12.
The Sooners believe the ability to put at least four legitimate scores on the floor at all times is their strength.
“It's special,” Hield said. “Like Isaiah, he went off for 21. You never thought about that. We have other guys, Jordan, Je'lon, Ryan. Even though Ryan didn't score today probably the next game will be his night. All of our guys come out ready to play each and every day no matter what.”
OU has seven conference games left beginning with its meeting with Texas Tech (12-11, 4-6) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Lloyd Noble Center.
The Sooners have positioned themselves well. Four of those seven games are at home. The announcement on Sunday that Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart will be suspended for Saturday’s Bedlam game in Stillwater, means the Sooners have a strong opportunity to close well. Only one of those road games — at Kansas on Feb. 24 — will be against a ranked team.
Scoring in the paint is an obvious area where OU can improve. Progressing is something OU has done all season.
“These guys just like to play. They love being in the gym. They've all improved because they've put time in, during the offseason and during the year. They're in the gym getting extra shots,” Kruger said. “The sincerity of investment is always really important. This group likes to invest.”
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