Oklahoma Basketball: Sooners come up short in Lawrence, 83-75

Kansas came into Phog Allen Fieldhouse expecting to clinch a share of the Big 12 regular season title for the tenth consecutive time.  And they did; just not as easily as they thought.  The Oklahoma Sooners played with fortitude, and were still very much in the game in the waning minutes.  Still, the Sooners, despite holding a lead as late as the 8:42 mark, fell, 83-75.

Was Kansas a little too certain of their assured victory?  Perhaps, but the closeness of the game also a testament to the resolve which Lon Kruger has instilled into his basketball team.  Ryan Spangler fought for rebounds, pulling down nine.  Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard wriggled their way through the lane and past the Kansas defenders for points.  Cameron Clark, who led the Sooners with 18, displayed his midrange jumper.  No matter how hard they tried, Kansas couldn’t K.O. the Sooners.

D.J. Bennet soars for a rebound. (Photo via Soonersports.com)

D.J. Bennet soars for a rebound. (Photo via Soonersports.com)

To open the game, the Sooners did not look prepared.  They missed five of their first six shot attempts and allowed Kansas to jump out to a 15-4 lead.  Spangler and Clark looked hapless trying to defend Joel Embiid, and the Jayhawks were hitting perimeter shots, further intensifying the Sooner troubles.  It appeared to be the blowout the Jayhawks were anticipating.  However, Clark caught fire, and soon the other Sooners followed his lead.  The Sooners went on a 13-2 run to even the game at 17 and force Bill Self to call a timeout.  It took a while, but at the 5:29 mark, Oklahoma took its first lead after Woodard made an acrobatic layup to put them up 27-25.  However, Kansas, sparked by Selden, would storm back and take a 42-33 lead into halftime.  It appeared Oklahoma’s run was over.

Oklahoma came out of the locker room and shocked everyone by putting themselves right back in the game.  A collection of Sooners contributed as Oklahoma opened the half on a 13-4 run to knot the score at 46.  With 12 minutes remaining, Buddy Hield sunk a three that gave Oklahoma a 53-52 advantage.  For the next two minutes, Kansas would score only once, and, though the Sooners would also have some trouble scoring, Oklahoma expanded to a 58-54 lead following a Tyler Neal triple.  Kansas would eventually retake the lead with eight minutes to go and never relinquish it, but the Sooners kept it close the entire eight minutes.

With four minutes remaining, Cousins hit a tough jumper to cut the Jayhawk lead to four, and Spangler made one of two free throws to make the game 66-69.  With 30 seconds remaining and the Jayhawks up by nine, Clark sunk a three to put doubt in the enemy’s mind.  Oklahoma never truly gave up until Clark missed a second three with 18 seconds left, and they were down by eight, and even then they were swiping at the ball as Kansas brought it up the court.

Overall, it was a good game for the Sooners.  Phog Allen is one of the toughest environments to play in, as proven by the fact that Oklahoma hasn’t won there since 1993.  Still, the Sooners competed and even held the lead, a testimony to either how much Kansas was overlooking this game, or just how tough this team will be to beat in March.  I’m leaning more towards the latter.

Oklahoma impressively scored as many points in the paint as Kansas did—26—despite the fact that the Jayhawks had a massive advantage.  This can partially be attributed to the Jayhawks getting into early foul trouble, but is still impressive nonetheless.  Oklahoma also beat the Jayhawks in second chance points (13-9) despite a -11 rebounding margin.  Aside from Clark, Hield (16) and Woodard (10) scored double digits, with Spangler (9) and Cousins (8) just on the precipice.

Next up, the Sooners (20-8, 9-6) will be back in Norman to face the Texas Longhorns (20-7, 9-5).  This game is of colossal magnitude because, if Iowa State loses, even if Texas wins against Baylor, the Sooners would have the tie breaker over them if they won because they beat them in Austin earlier this season.  Thus, this game could effectively be for second place in the conference.  Tip-off is set for 3 PM CST on Saturday, Mar. 1 at the Lloyd Noble Center.

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