By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Balance has been a key for Oklahoma all season. It’s gotten to 13-5 and 4-2 in the Big 12 Conference because it hasn’t been overly reliant on one player to score, rebound or even play a massive amount of minutes.
However, Saturday’s 67-54 loss to No. 3 Kansas showed the Sooners can only do so much without a spectacular individual performance.
OU didn’t have one against Kansas. Romero Osby and Amath M’Baye both scored 12 points apiece, which is about what they average. Steven Pledger finished with 10. He averages 11. Buddy Hield added his typical nine-point outing.
One of them needed to have a huge offensive game for the Sooners to win.
Osby and Pledger were the most likely candidates. What makes the Jayhawks an elite team is their ability to negate teams’ best low-post and perimeter scorers.
Pledger only took eight shots in 29 minutes. He couldn’t shake Kansas’ Travis Releford enough to get in a serious offensive flow. Withey’s shot-blocking ability frustrated Osby even when he was taking 18-foot jump shots. He also closed down paths to the basket for everyone else.
“Kansas is awfully good. They were great, defensively,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “They have a lot of guys on the perimeter who guard the ball very well. Then Withey changes everything on the interior and does a terrific job. I thought he set the tone early in the ball game.”
The Sooners’ game plan was built around Osby making perimeter shots and pulling the 7-foot Withey away from the basket. It was the only way they were going to get easy shots. It didn’t happen and the 21-for-59 shooting effort followed.
“He does that with everybody, he makes it really tough, especially going to the basket,” Osby said. “He has good timing. You try to get him off the floor with pump fakes, but he stays down. He has a knack for it. He makes it tough for everybody.”
The good news for OU is that it doesn’t have to face the Jayhawks again until they visit Lloyd Noble Center on Feb. 9. The bad news: the second meeting with Kansas will conclude a five-game stretch during which OU will face the four teams that join it in the top half of the Big 12 standings.
The run continues Wednesday when they face Baylor (14-5, 5-1) at 6 p.m. at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. No. 11 Kansas State comes to Lloyd Noble Center on Saturday. OU goes to Iowa State (14-5, 4-2) on Feb. 4.
This run of games can make or break the Sooners’ season. None of the three games coming up will be against teams of Kansas’ level. But winning will require at least one player to step out of his offensive shell.
Osby will continue to be OU’s offensive focal point. Nothing that happened against Kansas forced a changed.
“When Ro doesn’t make shots, it makes it more difficult for us,” Kruger said. “Still, he’s the hardest worker and we don’t mind going to him. We’ll line up again on Wednesday and go to him more.”
However, for OU to remain in the top half of the conference during this critical stretch, someone must get hot. Typical offensive performances won’t be enough.
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