NORMAN — The four-day trip to Orlando, Fla., turned out to be an educational experience for Oklahoma. It went 2-1, beating UTEP in its opening game in the Old Spice Classic and closing with a victory over West Virginia to secure third place.
However, it was that 72-47 loss to Gonzaga where the enlightenment occurred.
“We got physically whipped; I mean really beat up,” OU coach Lon Kruger said of the loss to the Bulldogs. “I thought it showed in our play on Sunday. We really responded well to that. We learned from it. Gonzaga pushed us all over the place and then we really battled West Virginia on even ground.”
The Sooners (4-1) left Florida playing like the team they plan to be.
Amath M’Baye and Romero Osby led the way. M’Baye scored a career-high 19 points against the Mountaineers and pulled down six rebounds. Osby fought through foul trouble to score eight points and yanked down six boards.
Osby was named to the Old Spice Classic’s all-tournament team. M’Baye ended up being named the Big 12’s newcomer of the week.
OU needs it to carry over. It heads to Tulsa to face Oral Roberts (3-3) at 7 tonight at the Mabee Center. It’s one of two games OU will have this week. Northwestern (La.) State visits Lloyd Noble Center on Friday.
Getting the big men going is something the Sooners need to see more of this week. One trait M’Baye, Osby and backups Andrew Fitzgerald and Tyler Neal share is they can create matchup problems on the offensive end. None are traditional back-to-basket low post players. They can all hit mid-range jumpers. M’Baye and Osby both had success beating post defenders off the dribble in Florida.
“We have the opportunity to create mismatches,” Osby said. “When that happens teams have to double-team us and that creates opportunities for our shooters. I think when we play that way it creates a lot of easy shots without having to force anything.”
OU shot 47.4 percent (27-for-57) against the Mountaineers. M’Baye was 5-for-6 from the field and got to the free-throw line 13 times, sinking nine.
He was the kind of offensive force Kruger hoped he’d be when he transferred in from Wyoming last season.
“That was the first time I thought he’s played with the confidence and the swagger that he’ll play with eventually,” Kruger said. “I thought that was big step for him.”
That’s the reason for playing tough games early in the season. The Sooners had a couple last week and learned a valuable lesson.
“We learned that if you don’t want to get bullied, you have to be the bullies,” M’Baye said.
The Sooners also learned winning is a lot easier when they’re dishing it out rather than taking it.
John ShinnFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org