By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Amath M’Baye filled up the statistics sheet in Oklahoma’s victory over Texas Tech on Wednesday. He registered his first double-double of the season with 15 points and 13 rebounds. The 6-foot-9 forward even had five assists.
And he was only on the court for 25 minutes of the 86-71 victory.
“We’ve been on him to play like that,” OU point guard Sam Grooms said. “I’m really happy for him today. He went out there and played hard. He rebounded. He dominated. Even though he hasn’t done it before, tonight he did it. I’m looking forward to that happening the rest of the year.”
Anyone with a rooting interest in the Sooners feels the same way. M’Baye can be a mismatch menace when he’s playing well. There just aren’t many 6-foot-9 forwards who can make 3-pointers and blow right by defenders.
There seems to be an obvious indicator of whether M’Baye will put that full range of skills to use. The first four minutes have been a pretty strong indicator of the junior’s offensive activity.
M’Baye, who is averaging 10.5 points per game, has scored 15 or more points seven times this season. In those games, he’s averaged 4.3 points in the first four minutes and scored six or more three times.
Twice M’Baye has put seven points on the scoreboard by the first television timeout. The latest was Wednesday night. The first came in the Sooners’ 74-71 victory at Baylor on Jan. 30.
The Sooners (17-8, 8-5 Big 12) play host to the Bears (16-10, 7-6) at 4 p.m. today at Lloyd Noble Center.
OU coach Lon Kruger doesn’t believe the first four minutes are an all-or-nothing span for M’Baye, and he’s right. In the first Bedlam game on Jan. 12, M’Baye didn’t score a point in the first four minutes, but still scored 15.
“But when he has done it right away, it seems like he’s had a good 40 minutes,” Kruger said. “So, we try to get him started every time out.”
Every player would love to have the offense run through him. OU has plays designed for every player it has on the floor. The overwhelming majority are designed for Romero Osby, Steven Pledger or M’Baye to get open shots or clear lanes to the basket.
It was a huge part of M’Baye’s hot start against the Red Raiders.
“Just getting the ball in the spots I like to have them in. The shots were wide open. I didn’t feel like I forced many shots,” he said. “Anytime I get the ball in position to score, I want to make the best of it.
“When the shots fall like that, it gives me confidence and seems to carry over throughout the game.”
Osby and Pledger have just as much significance to the Sooners on the offensive end. Getting them going early is just as important. The difference is those two seniors have shown the ability to overcome slow starts. Their confidence as scorers is cemented.
M’Baye can still be shaky in that department.
“Sometimes he gets down on himself, but we always try to stay in his ear about keep playing. Because he is talented enough to do that on a nightly basis,” Osby said. “Tonight (against Texas Tech) he looked like the Amath of old. We were excited to see that and happy for him as well. Down the stretch he could be big for us.”
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