Lloyd Noble Center | Norman, OK | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
Halfway through the Big 12 slate, the Texas Longhorns have defied the odds and find themselves atop the league standings with a perfect 8-0 mark. With the Kansas Jayhawks dominating their opponents game in and game out, it’s becoming more likely that the Longhorns will have to finish with a perfect 16-0 league record to claim an outright conference championship.
As any fan of college basketball knows, the toughest place to find wins is on the road in conference play. Tonight, the Longhorns take on one of their biggest rivals in Norman, as they square off with the Oklahoma Sooners. Fortunately for Texas, OU has one of the youngest rosters in the country, with three sophomores and one freshman in the starting lineup. The Sooners are playing well as of late, though, and could easily pull off the upset at home.
The first meeting
The Longhorns knocked off the Sooners 66-46 in Austin on January 15th, a game in which Texas led wire to wire. The Horns jumped out to an early lead by holding OU to just three field goals in their first 13 attempts, and allowed the Sooners just 19 points in the first half.
On the offensive end, the Longhorns were given numerous open looks from long range, and they were able to knock down seven of 12 from behind the arc on the afternoon. Jordan Hamilton was the biggest beneficiary of the poor perimeter D, and he knocked down five threes as part of his 17-point performance.
For the Sooners, Andrew Fitzgerald was the lone bright spot in an embarrassing loss. The big man had 18 points, scoring at will inside. Tiny guard Carl Blair also had a pair of easy layups when matched up with Texas’ Jai Lucas, who couldn’t match Blair’s speed. Unfortunately for Blair, Lucas only played six minutes in the game.
All told, the 0.747 points per possession that Texas allowed was OU’s worst offensive performance of the season. The Sooners were just 1-of-15 from long range, leading to an effective field-goal percentage of just 40.2%, their lowest mark in eight Big 12 games.
After getting trounced by the Longhorns, Oklahoma turned things around, aided in part by an easy stretch in their schedule. OU was able to string together four straight wins, including a road victory against Iowa State. At the friendly confines of the Lloyd Noble Center, the Sooners defeated Texas Tech, Colorado, and Baylor during the streak.
On Saturday, the Sooner train finally derailed with a road loss to Oklahoma State in the Bedlam Rivalry. Cade Davis and Fitzgerald each had 18 points against the Cowboys, but the Sooners sent OSU to the free throw line 44 times. The Cowboys made more free throws (36) than Oklahoma even attempted (26), and the disparity proved the difference in the 81-75 loss.
During the four-game winning streak, Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel found success by shrinking his bench. The Sooner starters played a stunning 88.4% of the minutes available in those four games, which included a pair of 70-plus possession games against Tech and Colorado.
Cameron Clark was the breakout star of that stretch, averaging 15 points per game. The athletic freshman even played all 40 minutes of the win over Baylor, and grabbed seven rebounds against a Bear team that has one of the longest frontcourts in the country. Clark is certainly overshadowed all of the big-name freshmen in the Big 12, but he’s going to be a household name in the very near future.
Meet the Sooners
For an in-depth look at all of the Oklahoma players, click right here to read our game preview from the January 15th meeting between these two schools.
Keys to the game
while the Sooners made just 1-of-15 from behind the arc against the Horns in Austin, Texas must again limit OU’s perimeter scoring tonight. We’ve seen our share of upsets in this building fueled by ridiculous Sooner three-point fiestas, and sharpshooter Steven Pledger is liable to light the Horns up at a moment’s notice. Just ask Iowa State, who saw the sophomore guard nail seven three-pointers in a 38-point effort up in Ames. If OU isn’t knocking down a ton of threes, it’s hard to see their offense keeping pace with the Longhorns tonight.
The Longhorns also must flex their muscles on the defensive glass. The Sooners are still one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country, grabbing just 28.6% of their misses. In Austin, the Horns held OU to a 30.3% mark on the offensive glass, making it even tougher for the Sooners to score on the road. A similar performance tonight will make it very difficult for the Sooners to win the game, unless they are having a career night from the field.
Finally, Texas needs to shut down the scorer. During the team’s impressive five-game march through the league’s top teams, the Longhorn defense held Keiton Page, Khris Middleton, Josh Selby, and Marcus Denmon well below their season averages. On Saturday, Texas Tech’s John Roberson finally broke through against the UT defense and had a 16-point performance against the Horns.
Texas will likely find it difficult to shut down Fitzgerald, as they discovered in Austin earlier this year. The key is to once again find that lock-down defense that shut out Middleton and Page, and use it to limit the scoring from Pledger and Clark. As long as neither of those scorers are going off for 20-plus, it should be very hard for the Sooners to ride Fitzgerald to victory.