NORMAN — It’s been a full week since Oklahoma last played a game. Time enough to rest up and get in four practices before it faces Kansas State at 3 p.m. today at Lloyd Noble Center.
Does the time off mean the Sooners will show anything different?
Likely not. Four practices isn’t nearly enough time for reinvention.
But OU (19-8, 8-5 Big 12) believes it’s a different team than the one that lost to the Wildcats (18-8, 8-5) nearly six weeks ago, 72-66, at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan.
It was one of the opening games in the Big 12 Conference schedule, and the Sooners were close to a one-dimensional team. They had a winning strategy that was highly predicated on creating up-tempo games and wearing down opponents late in the second half. Cranking up the defensive pressure just wasn’t in their arsenal.
The absence of defense was on complete display in the first half of these teams’ initial meeting. The Wildcats, which was then and remains one of the worst shooting teams in the Big 12 with a 43.5 percent field goal percentage and a 69.2 per game scoring average, came out firing.
The Sooners recovered and led late in the game. But they allowed a team that tends to struggle to make baskets build confidence.
“In the last month we’ve changed a lot, defensively,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “Statistically, the defensive field-goal percentage in the last couple ball games has been much better than over the first several (Big 12) games. Our awareness is better.”
The Sooners have not allowed a team to make more shots than it’s missed since that game at Kansas State. Over the nine games since, in which the Sooners have gone 6-3, they’ve held opponents to a 42.7 percent shooting average. The same defensive tenacity will be required against the Wildcats.
The key is avoiding that five-minute lapse where teams get off to big runs. The Wildcats led by as many as nine points midway through the first half due to a barrage of uncontested 3-pointers.
“We have to avoid those because that’s how teams stay in games or pull away,” guard Isaiah Cousins said. “That’s how we lost the game up there.”
The rest and the four full practices OU has had to dedicate to the Wildcats should help. A lot of it was spent was on the defensive end.
The game is important. Both teams are currently tied for third place in the league along with Iowa State. The winner could likely be tied for second by Saturday night, since second-place Texas plays at league-leading Kansas today.
“This is one of the few times we’ve been able to use all the time to scout a team and really spend it focusing on getting ready for them,” guard Je’lon Hornbeak said. “I feel that’s something that’s to our advantage if we use it well.”
The lack of defense is a label OU has carried all season. Despite what it’s done the last nine games, it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. But today, against a Kansas State team that’s recognized as one of the best defensive teams in the country, there is a chance to display the difference between the Sooners of mid-January and today.
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