NORMAN — No season is a smooth, easy ascension. There are bumps along the way.
Oklahoma hit its first one earlier this week when guard Je’lon Hornbeak suffered a broken left foot. The injury will keep the sophomore on the bench for at least a month.
On paper, it means the Sooners (8-1) will be without their sixth leading scorer (5.7 points per game) and backup point guard.
But Sooner coach Lon Kruger knows removing a player from the rotation has a ripple effect.
“It shortens our rotation and it shortens our depth at the point. It hurts us a lot of ways,” Kruger said.
The short-term ramifications will be on display when the Sooners face Tulsa at 4 p.m. today at Lloyd Noble Center.
The player who faces the most pressure because of Hornbeak’s absence is freshman point guard Jordan Woodard. He’s surpassed expectations thus far. He enters today’s game averaging 10.6 points a game and 4.5 assists.
But what happens if he gets into foul trouble? What happens if he’s simply struggling?
Woodard was who Kruger talked to first after Hornbeak suffered the injury in Tuesday’s practice.
“The main thing he told me was I can’t get in foul trouble,” Woodard said. “I’m still gonna be aggressive on defense, but I don’t think it’s too much to worry about.”
But it’s a hard line to walk. What happens after Woodard picks up that first foul will be telling. One of the reasons the Sooners have been so improved offensively this season (they’re averaging 86.7 points a game) is the play of Woodard.
They’ve gotten one look at what the difference can be when he’s out of the game for an extended period. Last month against then top-ranked Michigan State, Woodard picked up his second foul with a little over 6 minutes left in the first half. The Sooners trailed by one at the time. By the time they got to the locker room at halftime, the Sooners were down by 14.