NORMAN — Legendary basketball coach John Wooden had a simple rule for how the game should be played: be fast, but don’t be in a hurry.
Oklahoma has the fast part down, but ‘rushed’ is an apt way describe how it’s played in the last two games. They were wins against Oral Roberts and Northwestern (La.) State, but OU failed to shoot over 40 percent in either game.
“We’ve been getting good shots, but we’ve just been frantic with the ball and hurried some of those shots,” OU coach Lon Kruger said on Monday. “We need to calm down a little.”
The offensive issue has been around since the season began. OU is shooting just 40.3 percent (166-for-412) through the first six games. The main reason it has won six of its first seven games is defense. The Sooners held their opponents to 40.1 percent shooting and won razor tight games because it got defense stops in the last five minutes.
The offensive cure sounds easy enough. However, OU (6-1) faces Arkansas (3-3) at 6 p.m. tonight at Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Ark. This isn’t going to be an easy game to slow things down. It will be two teams with nearly identical styles on the court.
The Razorbacks will press from the opening tip and play a full-court game for 40 minutes. The Sooners have done the same throughout much of the first seven games.
Nevertheless, it takes awhile to get comfortable with a furious pace. OU’s freshmen guards — Je’lon Hornbeak, Isaiah Cousins and Buddy Hield — have both flourished and struggled playing in up-tempo games.
“I know I need to be a little bit more under control and take my time,” said Hield, who is averaging 8.9 points a game. “Coach always talks about seeing things before they happen instead of rushing in.”
It’s the line a team has to walk against the Razorbacks, there will be plenty of chances to take quick shots. There are often advantages when a team breaks a full-court press. Getting good shots and making them is the key.
“We need to get easy shot — preferably layups — and knock down open shots and hopefully contain them,” Hornbeak said.
Tonight’s came is a chance for OU to make an early statement — it has already won against first two true road games against Texas-Arlington and Oral Roberts. A win tonight in Fayetteville — where OU hasn’t won since the 2001-02 season — would be a bigger feather in its cap.
The Razorbacks are wounded after dropping three straight to Arizona State, Wisconsin and No. 4 Syracuse. Still, OU will face a step up in competition and will be in its first truly hostile environment of the season.
Patience is required to work through all of it. The Sooners understand the situation they face. It’s a tough task, but not insurmountable.
“It really shouldn’t be as long we do what we need to do,” senior guard Steven Pledger said. “We just need to attack whatever they show us. If we do that, we should be fine.”
John ShinnFollow me @email@example.com