A full week off might have come at the best time for Oklahoma.
The Sooners (16-10, 4-9 Big 12) will enter their Red River clash vs. Texas (15-11, 7-6 Big 12) Saturday fresh off a win over TCU and six days of rest.
It helped senior Jamuni McNeace, who’s been bothered by a right ankle injury, to get more recovery time between games.
“I feel like I'm getting pretty close to [100 percent],” McNeace said Thursday. “I couldn't do my trick dunks for a while. That was hurting me. I couldn't run as fast as I wanted to. I couldn't jump as high. I feel like it's all coming back. That's always a part of my game, my athleticism.”
The high-flying OU center missed his team's outings vs. Texas Tech and Baylor on Feb. 4 and Feb. 9, respectively, to rest his ailing ankle.
He then played sparingly in the Sooners' Feb. 16 win at TCU after feeling good enough to play during pregame warmups.
The time off has helped McNeace mentally as well.
“I think the week and the two games he didn’t play and didn’t practice during that time really helped him mentally as much as physically,” coach Lon Kruger said. “During that time, he realized that he was kind of back to normal in terms of bounce and explosiveness and he practiced like that this week.”
McNeace’s injury came during OU’s worst slump of the season — a five-game losing streak that was snapped a week ago in Fort Worth, Texas.
His absence as a shot blocker and threat in the interior forced OU to change its looks on offense and defense, including playing junior forward Kristian Doolittle at center.
“Anytime you lose a guy who is a rim protector and who is really doing a good job offensively, you have to make adjustments,” Kruger said. “[Doolittle] has stepped in there and has done an unbelievably good job.
“Still, it’s nice to have [McNeace] back and he’s started to get that bounce back. It’s been two months without live, full-time reps that he’s missed out on. He’s had a good week of practice and we’ll see how he feels on Saturday.”
Doolittle was vital to the Sooners’ 71-62 victory over the Horned Frogs, scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. And his teammates feel like they'll only become more dangerous with both post players on the floor at the same time.
“Doolittle has been doing a great job, causing a lot of mismatch problems at the 5 spot,” senior Christian James said. “[When] Jamuni comes back and [Doolittle gets back] on the wing, that makes us bigger and more athletic.”
As an NCAA Tournament bubble team, OU can’t afford many losses. But a win over the Longhorns, who are dealing with their own internal issues, would further improve the Sooners' postseason resume.
Texas will be without senior guard and the team's leading scorer Kerwin Roach, who's indefinitely suspended for violating team rules. Freshman forward Kamaka Hepa (concussion) is also unavailable.
The Sooners and Longhorns are scheduled for an 11 a.m. tip at Lloyd Noble Center. The game will air on ESPNU.
Texas at Oklahoma
Time/Place: 11 a.m. | Lloyd Noble Center, Norman
Records/Rankings: OU (16-10, 4-9 Big 12); Texas (15-11, 7-6 Big 12)
OU starters: G 24 Jamal Bieniemy (6-4, Fr./4.1 ppg, 3.1 apg); G 1 Rashard Odomes (6-6, Sr./6.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg); G 0 Christian James (6-4, Sr./15.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg); F 35 Brady Manek (6-9, So./11.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg); F 21 Kristian Doolittle (6-7, Jr./9.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg)
Texas starters: F 21 Dylan Osetkowski (6-9, Sr./10.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg); G 2 Matt Coleman III (10.0 ppg, 3.5 apg); G 3 Courtney Ramey (6-3, Fr./7.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg); F 10 Jaxson Hayes (6-11, Fr./10.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg); G 13 Jase Febres (6-5, So./7.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
Series: OU leads 54-39
Radio: KRXO 107.7 FM; KOKC 1520 AM