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January 19, 2014

Sooners survive lackluster opening half to run past 11th-ranked Bears

WACO, Texas — After watching his team stumble through one of its ugliest halves of the season, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger had one message for his team: it could be worse and it probably should have been. Only trailing No. 12 Baylor by six points felt like a gift.

About 90 minutes later, the 25th-ranked Sooners were winning and celebrating after knocking off the Bears 66-64 at Ferrell Center.

“You feel really good any time you can win a game on the road. To do it against a really good Baylor club is even better,” Kruger said.

The victory was big on multiple levels. It was the program’s first road win over a team ranked No. 12 or higher in 21 years. Also, it ended a brutal five-game stretch to begin conference play that included three road games and four contests against ranked or previously-ranked teams. OU (14-4, 3-2 Big 12) won three of them with the Baylor victory joining wins over No. 8 Iowa State and Texas.

But how it won Saturday was completely different.

OU managed to hang in the first half when it could hardly get a shot to fall. The team that had led the Big 12 in scoring coming into the game — the Sooners — seemed lost in the first 20 minutes. They settled for contested jump shots against Baylor’s zone and couldn’t get anywhere near the rim.

The Sooners’ 23.3 percent first-half shooting was their coldest stretch of the season. OU stayed in the game strictly with defense. Baylor led 30-24 at halftime.

That was the turnaround for the Sooners. Getting stops was their Achilles’ heel through the first 18 games. Saturday it was their strength.

It also helped that Buddy Hield and Cameron Clark caught fire in the second half. Hield scored a game-high 19 points, all of it in the final 20 minutes. Clark scored 10 of his 12 points after intermission.

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