Seeking their first conference tournament win since 2011, the Oklahoma Sooners, after a fantastic, surprising regular season, were set the face the Baylor Bears. The Sooners knew to be wary of the blistering Bears, who, after starting the conference season off 2-8, had won eight of their last nine games. Unfortunately, whatever pregame speech Lon Kruger proffered seemed to have little effect on the Sooners, who failed to break their tournament losing streak, letting Baylor win, 78-73.
Cameron Clark led the Sooners with 19 points, and Buddy Hield was not far behind with 15.
Though the final score suggests a close game, for much of the game, it was not. Baylor led the entire way, and the Bears’ lead grew as large as 21. Of the two teams, it would have been Baylor one would have expected to come out lethargic. The Bears had just played not 24 hours earlier against TCU, while the Sooners had the luxury of five days’ rest.
Unfortunately, the antithesis happened.
It was the Sooners that played sluggish to start, watching as Baylor opened on a 10-0 run. It took nearly four minutes for the first Sooner field goal to drop. Baylor manhandled the Sooners in the paint early, with Isaiah Austin exposing the Sooners’ lack of size. As Baylor’s lead continued to grow, Oklahoma’s hope continued to wane. At halftime, the scale was already tipped heavily in the Bear’s favor, as they led 47-31.
However, this scenario had become all too familiar to Sooner fans this season. They had seen their team get down early, but fight back to win the game. The resolve this team had shown had been unwavering, so one almost expected the Sooners to make an amazing comeback. And they did, just not before letting the Baylor lead grow to 21.
It wasn’t until about a quarter of the way through the second half that the Sooners actually began to mount a comeback. With a lift from Tyler Neal, who scored seven point off the bench, the Sooners whittled the lead down to single digits with plenty of time to spare. With a minute-and-a-half remaining, Hield, who had been cold all game, did that Buddy Hield thing and came up in the clutch, nailing a three to cut the Baylor lead to just four. It wasn’t as close as the Sooners would get—Jordan Woodard would hit a three with three seconds to make the score 76-73—but an amalgam of Baylor free throws and Sooner misses would all but seal the deal.
Simply put: the Sooners couldn’t buy a bucket and weren’t aggressive enough on defense. Oklahoma went 42.4% from the field compared to 50% from its counterpart. Not to mention, the Sooners continued to fire from long distance, shooting 35 long bombs in all, despite a lackluster 34.3% to show for it. This is partly credit to Baylor, who did a terrific job defending the post early in the game. Even later in the game, the Sooner players, especially Ryan Spangler, seemed tentative to attack in the paint, probably due to the five Bear blocks that all came in the first half.
Now, it’s the waiting game for the Sooners. They will have to regroup and wait to see where the committee seeds them in the tournament. Though the loss stings, it certainly can’t hurt to have a few more days to rest up and work on some things prior to the round of 64 matchup. Currently, I can see Oklahoma no better than a five seed and no worse than a six seed. Either would be favorable as they could avoid playing a top-8 team until the Sweet Sixteen. No matter where they end up, the Sooners are sure to be a tough out, as they proved today, even if in a loss. Battling back from 21 down is no small feat. This March, the nation better watch out for the Sooner Nation.
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