By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The players are the same, but if you watched Oklahoma play in November, December or even January it’s hard to believe the same group that struggled to score 60 points throughout the first half of the season has averaged 80.25 in its last seven games. And that average doesn’t include two overtimes.
The Sooners have blossomed into one of the Big 12’s best offensive teams in the second half of conference play. Wednesday night’s 83-70 victory over West Virginia marked the fourth time in the last five games they scored at least 83 points in a 40-minute game.
“It’s a case of when you see teams playing well offensively, it’s individuals are playing with confidence and shooting with confidence,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “It’s happening for us.”
The offensive surge is the reason OU has stormed its way inside the NCAA Tournament bubble over the last month. The victory over the Mountaineers was its sixth in the last eight. Only overtime losses at Texas and No. 13 Oklahoma State serve as blights.
So, where did that shooting confidence come from?
The Sooners are still the same team that scored 70 or more points just five times in 12 non-conference games. They’re still the same bunch that could muster just 50 points in a two-point home loss to No. 9 Kansas State on Feb. 2.
Well, that loss to the Wildcats served as a springboard.
“I remember the Kansas State game was just a horrible offensive game for both teams,” OU forward Romero Osby said. “It was just a grind-it-out defensive game. I think if we would have shared the ball and made the plays we’re making now, we would have had a better chance to win that game.”
Kruger, however, is one of the few who aren’t surprised by what OU’s done record-wise or on the offensive end. He’s about to become the only coach to guide five different programs to the NCAA Tournament. That doesn’t happen by pigeonholing your players.
Kruger believes if you watched OU (20-9, 11-6 Big 12) play in November and watched the OU team that will conclude the regular season against TCU (10-20, 1-15) at 4 p.m., today at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas, you would see a night-and-day difference on the offensive end.
The biggest alteration has been the emergence of Osby, who is averaging 20.3 points in his the last eight games.
“We didn’t know in November how dominant Ro would be in terms of dictating a lot of what we’re doing offensively,” Kruger said. “A lot of what we’re doing revolves around him garnering extra attention from the defense. He’s made better shots for everyone else because he’s been so effective. So, we’re giving it to him a lot more than we did in November.”
The attention Osby commands has given guard Steven Pledger more room to operate. The emergence of Sam Grooms as not only the facilitator of the offense, but as a scorer has made OU more potent.
However, none of what has happened has been a fluke. There was a process the Sooners followed to get to their current status. They won with defense early on, and continually built themselves offensively.
“Guys are now doing what they’re capable of doing,” Kruger said. “That may exceed some people’s expectations based on what’s happened recently. I think we’re achieving rather than exceeding.”
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