By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Oklahoma is a team used to battling for 40 minutes for victories. Just about all have come down to the plays made in the final minutes.
The exception has been the Sooners’ last two games. Last Wednesday’s 86-71 victory at Texas Tech and Saturday’s 90-76 romp over Baylor at Lloyd Noble Center showed OU is a team capable of burying opponents quickly.
The early onslaught was undoubtedly the overwhelming factor Saturday. The Sooners came out shooting well and defending even better. The 47-21 halftime lead was the Sooners’ largest of the season.
“This group has done such a good job of getting each other ready to play. We’ve talked about that for several games in a row. They’ve opened games with good energy, good focus,” OU coach Lon Kruger said.
The energy is something that defines the way teams play at the end of the regular season. It has been long stretch of two games a week since early January. Many teams are worn down by the process.
The Sooners know what that feels like. From 2010-2012, they went 3-21 in February games. Saturday’s victory lifted the current Sooners to 18-8 overall and 9-5 in the Big 12 Conference. They’re 4-3 this month, having won four of the last five.
The main reason is the offensive improvement. The Sooners have averaged 80.4 points per game in the last five games.
Guards Steven Pledger and Sam Grooms and senior forward Romero Osby have shot a combined 76-for-142 during the span. Only Pledger, who was 7-for-9 en route to 19 points against the Bears, has shot under 50 percent during the run — and he’s made 30 of his last 61 shots.
“I was getting to my spots and hitting shots,” Pledger said Saturday. “I was getting my shoulders squared up to the basket and hitting them.”
Grooms is 16-for-30 while Osby is 30-for-51. They’ve helped the Sooners shoot 47.5 percent or better the last five games. No big team has been hotter during the period.
Kruger credits his seniors, who know all too well about the struggles at the end of the regular season, for elevating their games.
“The older guys have done a terrific job of that from a leadership standpoint,” Kruger said. “It doesn’t just happen. They have to prepare to make that happen each game, and they’ve done a good job of that. We have four more times where they have to do that.”
OU still has two big games left to close out the month. It faces Texas (12-15, 4-10) at 8 p.m., Wednesday at the Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. Iowa State (19-8, 9-5) visits Lloyd Noble Center on Saturday.
Win them both and the Sooners can exit the month knowing they did what they had to do to secure the NCAA Tournament berth they’ve coveted for three years.
Playing well early and the elevated offensive play have made it possible.
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