NORMAN — Everything but a win. That’s what Oklahoma got Wednesday night at Lloyd Noble Center.
On the night Kansas, that underachieving Big 12 program that had lost to San Diego State inside Allen Fieldhouse — San Diego State inside Allen Fieldhouse! — got well, the Sooners were as close as four points when Buddy Hield missed a great look from 3-point land with 1:19 remaining.
They were within four points despite having little clue how to slow down the Jayhawks, little size to slow them down even if they’d had a clue and, one would have thought, little chance to knock off the Jayhawks on the night Bill Self’s team played its best game in many moons and hit 54.7 percent of its shots.
“We’ve been playing handcuffed and haven’t been able to let it go,” Self said. “But we let it go tonight.”
And not only were the Sooners down four points with a great look from 3-point land with 1:19 remaining on a night the Jayhawks let it go, they were kind of disgusted by it all, which counts as another good sign.
Coach Lon Kruger said there were times he didn’t quite get the effort he was looking for from everybody. Cam Clark said the OU’s been a team of spurts rather than consistency.
The Sooners eventually fell 90-83 and while it’s tempting to believe it a bold step backward — OU beat Kansas 72-66 a year ago in Norman — it’s the wrong take. That Kansas team came into Lloyd Noble Center struggling and continued to struggle. This one played like Self and Jayhawk Nation has been waiting for it to play all season … and still OU trailed by just four points with a great look from 3-point land with 1:19 remaining.
To be sure, it’s not like Kruger’s doing a reprise of Billy Tubbs’ greatest hits a quarter century later. After all, OU’s been making a habit of threatening 100 points quite a bit, but not 150.
Still, you better believe this Sooner team can score, and it’s doing it without a classic big man, though Ryan Spangler plays a lot bigger than 6-8 in the five spot (just not Wednesday night when foul trouble put him and OU in a bind), and without a classic gunner like the departed Steven Pledger, though Clark, Hield and Tyler Neal have become gunners in their own mold, each of them entering Wednesday shooting at least 44.4 percent from distance, better than any of Pledger’s seasons if they keep it up.
“We have been pretty consistent scoring all year. That is comforting,” Kruger said. “It would be better if we were also getting stops on the other end … We have got to figure something out defensively.”
It’s always something, isn’t it? Oh, well, forget about that until No. 9 Iowa State rolls into town Saturday morning.
Now, revel in Clark, who canned a career-high tying 32 points, once again begging the question just what night of his life was it he went to sleep an athlete and woke up a basketball player, because he’s absolutely a different guy.
And enjoy Hield, who is so much fun to watch — and listen to with that fantastic Caribbean accent — sort of everywhere on the floor. A guard by trade, he pulled down a team-high eight rebounds to go with his 18 points.
The fans seemed to get it. Even though they were late arriving, even though way too many still didn’t arrive at all, failing to show up or give away their season tickets in the lower ring on an important night, many of those who made it stood and applauded as the buzzer sounded.
So did the Kansas fans, who seem to just appear wherever the their team is playing, making it all about right.
On the night the Jayhawks broke free from their chains, the Sooners proved they’re right there with them and a few stops away from beating them.
The Big 12’s a beast. The unbeaten Cyclones come next.
But OU, a world apart from simply being good enough to dream, has the firepower and moxie to win. A few stops sure wouldn’t hurt, either.
Follow me @clayhorning
Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.