The Norman Transcript

January 28, 2008

Sooners get it right

Column by sports editor Clay Horning

Clay Horning

Who knows how far this team will go.

Saturday night at the Big 12 Tournament? Dancing after getting bounced out of Kansas City? All the way to a second weekend of Madness?

Hard to know.

Because there’s the matter of this team getting better and better and better, so asking where everything might end is kind of like asking when the Sooners will quit getting better. Or how far they’ll have come when they quit getting better.

But if that’s the uncertainty facing Jeff Capel, his team and that portion of the Sooner Nation aware they play basketball at this university, something else appears more clear.

Oklahoma should go every bit as far as it’s supposed to.

It hasn’t always been that way.

Think back to Sooner teams of yesteryear. As good as some them were, all too often they left you asking questions.

Like, Wasn’t five years long enough for Johnnie Gilbert to develop a jumper? Or, Why was Aaron McGhee the only post who got better? Or, What are they trying to do offensively? And the old favorite, Why did he just stand there while the other team came back?

Well, other than building a house of bricks from the free throw line, this bunch of Sooners causes no such consternation. It’s got one star and a bunch of guys nobody ever thought a lot of until maybe this season. And all they seem to do is max out night after night after night.

They don’t beat themselves.

They don’t lose composure.

They don’t turn a tie ball into two free throws for the other team the way Byron Eaton did Monday night with 4:43 to play, sending Blake Griffin to the free-throw line where the fresh-manchild finally proved he couldn’t miss unguarded 15 footers forever.

They don’t, in an under-the-basket tangle, bulldog an opponent to the hardwood as Martavius Adams did to Taylor Griffin with 18:41 to play, creating a four-point possession for OU that left the game tied 32-32 after Oklahoma State had taken a five-point edge into the half.

The Sooners’ 64-61 victory over the Cowboys was just the latest example of OU doing all it can and hoping for the best, which is a far better formula than doing some of what it can and hoping for the best.

Look at it this way.

A long time ago, Austin Johnson appeared to have the makings of a decent enough point guard, if he could only take care of the ball, develop his shot and make good decisions. Well into his second season under Capel, he’s that guy.

Look at Longar Longar. Even though Kelvin Sampson had him ticketed as the next Renzi Stone or Evan Wiley, the studious observer might have wondered why the tall trim man from the Sudan couldn’t contribute on both ends of the floor. Well, now he does.

Monday night, OU should have won with a cushion. Missed charities and the Pokes playing maybe their most inspired game of the season — when they weren’t losing composure — conspired to make it a thriller. And still, but for the missed free throws, the Sooners did just about everything right.

They didn’t throw the ball away.

They didn’t commit dumb fouls.

They didn’t play scared.

They’ve won 15 games. Three straight in the conference. And they’ve done with the simplest of formulas.

They take what they’ve got. And play well.

Clay Horning