The Norman Transcript

January 19, 2013

Teammates know when Pledger has game face on

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

MANHATTAN, Kan. — The last time Oklahoma played at Kansas State, Sooner guard Steven Pledger was eerily quiet. He didn’t say much on the court or on the bench. There was just this stare that told everyone he was locked in to what he had to do.

After scoring 30 points in what became OU’s 63-60 victory over the Wildcats on Jan. 28, 2012, his teammates fully understood the icy exterior.

“You can tell when Steve’s in locked-in mode,” guard Sam Grooms said. “I’ve known this since he was 15 and he’s had games like that a lot. When he’s locked in, he’s got that look in his eye. I remember him being focused. Every timeout, he wouldn’t say too much. We were wondering if he was OK, but you’d look at him and he’d have that killer look in his eye. You could tell he wanted to win. He was a dead-eye shooter, and nothing was going to stop him from winning that game.”

Pledger didn’t remember the look, but the game was one where he was seeing everything perfectly.

“The ball was just finding me,” he said. “There would be a loose ball and it would pop out and come straight into my hands and I would let it fly.”

The performance was one of the most memorable of the senior’s career. After all, there aren’t many games when someone scores nearly half of the underdog’s points in an upset road victory over a ranked team.

However, Pledger has had three 30-point games during his career. Earlier in the 2011-2012 season, Pledger went off for 31 points to lead the Sooners to an All-College Classic victory over Houston.

A year earlier, Pledger scored 38 points in an overtime victory at Iowa State. It’s performances like that are the difference between winning and losing on the road.

“He hit those shots down the stretch that we really needed to win a road game,” Kruger said. “The way you win road games is be right there and then someone hits a big shot and instead of being up two you’re up by four.”

The Sooners (12-3, 3-0 Big 12) have played well on the road this season. They’re 6-2 away from Lloyd Noble Center this season, but today’s 3 p.m. game against the 16th-ranked Wildcats is going to be their toughest exam since facing No. 8 Gonzaga in November.

However, Pledger hasn’t really had that look this season. He’s averaging a respectable 11.5 points per game, but hasn’t reached the 20-point mark in any of OU’s 15 games.

There are factors involved in Pledger’s decreased scoring. For one, the Sooners are a much deeper team this season. The additions of freshman guard Buddy Hield and junior forward Amath M'Baye, and the development of senior forward Romero Osby has made OU a diverse offensive team. Pledger doesn’t have to score 30 points for OU to win a tough game.

“It’s been tough to catch a rhythm. I haven’t been able to get that yet,” he said.

Kansas State will do everything it can to upset Pledger’s tempo today. Pledger averaged 24 points in the two games against the Wildcats last season. They might try to guard him in the layup line before the game.

However, Pledger has been the focal point of defenses before. He was the last time he played against the Wildcats and it didn’t matter. Once “the look” takes over, the shots start falling regardless of the hands in his face.

“It’s amazing to have that look where it seemed like he was going to make every shot he put up,” forward Andrew Fitzgerald said. “It’s really a treat to watch.”

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

jshinn@normantranscript.com

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