NORMAN — Five games isn’t enough to define how a season will turn out, but it’s a sufficient amount of time to show Oklahoma’s offseason work wasn’t for naught.
The Sooners (4-1) are averaging 84.8 points after playing the likes of No. 1 Michigan State and Seton Hall in last weekend’s Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in New York.
The potential for scoring is an attribute OU coach Lon Kruger thought they would have going into this season and one it hopes to display when it hosts Arkansas-Little Rock at 2 p.m. today at Lloyd Noble Center.
“Coach told us to just stay in the gym. We were gonna be a run-and-gun team from the start. We were gonna put up a lot of shots — a lot of threes in transition,” OU forward Cameron Clark said.
Thus far, the Sooners have done those things. Clark is averaging 18.2 points after putting up a career-high 32 in the 87-76 loss to the Spartans last Saturday. The average is double what Clark averaged last season and 10 more than the average output for his career.
But he’s the prototype for the up-and-down style Kruger is trying to employ this season. The college game seems to have tilted in favor of slashers who can get to the basket.
The NCAA has emphasized calling fouls when defenders get two hands on offensive players and only calling charges when the contact is taken by a primary defender.
It isn’t a rule change as much as it an emphasis on enforcing existing ones. Nonetheless, OU is the kind of team that has benefited from the change. Getting used to it was emphasized from the start of preseason practice in September.
“We knew about it when we came back from France (on an August trip of five exhibition games),” OU guard Isaiah Cousins said. “We started practicing, and we talked about the new rules. We adjusted to it.”
Kruger had some experience dealing with the changes the NCAA wanted to make. The NBA made a similar change in the 2000-01 season. That was Kruger’s first season coaching the Atlanta Hawks.
“Those exhibition games were so ugly because it was foul, foul, foul,” Kruger said. “But everyone got used to it in a month or two. Players adjusted and scoring went up, and that’s what they’re after here in college.”
The fouls are obviously up. OU’s averaging 28.2 free-throw attempts per game. It’s about eight more per game than last season’s average.
The Sooners really haven’t taken full advantage of the fouls yet. OU’s shooting just 68.8 percent from the free-throw line.
One of the reasons the Sooners have gotten away with it is Clark. He’s shooting 83.8 percent from the free-throw line, 55.9 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range.
But Kruger doesn’t believe that’s come from the increase in fouls called.
“He’s benefiting more from the time he spent in the spring, summer and fall working in the gym,” Kruger said. “It’s good to see those results because that reinforces the importance of the investment. Because he worked hard. He put up a lot of shots. It’s really good to see that paying off.”
Clark isn’t the only who has put in the work. The Sooners currently have seven players averaging more than seven points per game.
They’re clearly a better offensive team than they’ve been in years. Judging by the way the games are officiated this season, the better offensive teams are going to benefit.
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