NORMAN — After 30 games, players don’t have to be told the regular season is winding down. Their bodies have delivered the message in unmistakable terms.
Practices tend to shrink. Trips to the cold tub to heal the aches and pains become more common.
Yet, No. 23 Oklahoma (21-8, 10-6 Big 12) seems to be invigorated as it enters the final week of the regular season. There are multiple reasons.
The biggest one is the fact OU has positioned itself to finish second in its conference with two more wins. First up is West Virginia (16-13, 8-8) at 8 p.m. today at Lloyd Noble Center. The Sooners bring the curtain down on the regular season Saturday at last place TCU.
A good argument can be made that OU’s bench has ignited the Sooners’ latest run. In last Saturday’s victory over Texas, that was the case.
The point total wasn’t lopsided. OU’s four-player bench of Je’lon Hornbeak, Tyler Neal, Frank Booker and D.J. Bennett only outscored Texas 23-19.
It was the energy each provided in tough spots.
Hornbeak was pressed into extended duty after point guard Jordan Woodard was shaken up after Texas center Cameron Ridley tumbled on top of him.
Neal played 22 minutes because starting forward Cameron Clark picked up two early fouls. Bennett played 15 minutes because starting forward Ryan Spangler was also in foul trouble.
The Sooners actually increased their lead when the starters went to the bench.
The trend didn’t begin against the Longhorns. It was the bench that kept OU in the Kansas game last week, too.
“At Lawrence the other night, we go from being down and Cam and Ryan are in foul trouble in the second half and Tyler and D.J. go in and we’re up four,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “That bunch has been pretty consistent for us here of late and that’s been huge. Frank continues to do a good job and you add Je’lon to that.