December 19, 2014

Lon Kruger is returning to Las Vegas content with his hard-nosed, defensive-minded team.

His squad's opponent is also pretty good at its own end of the court.

Points figure to be at a premium Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where Kruger and No. 15 Oklahoma try to hand No. 16 Washington its first defeat.

Local basketball fans will get their first look at Kruger since he bolted UNLV to take over at Oklahoma before the 2011-12 season. He led the Runnin' Rebels to a 161-71 mark with four NCAA appearances over the previous seven seasons.

Kruger still owns a home in Las Vegas and will guide the Sooners (7-2) in their first game in the city since they beat UNLV on Jan. 28, 1989.

Oklahoma is limiting opponents to 36.3 percent shooting and 28.8 percent on 3-pointers. Last season, the Sooners held foes to 41.3 percent and 30.6 on 3s during an 8-1 start.

"Clearly, we are totally different defensively," Kruger said. "We're not giving up as many good looks, clear path drives, and our transition is much more solid. We're a year older and, more importantly, we understand with a year of additional experience how much we have to improve defensively and how important that is."

Washington (9-0) is off to its best start since going 11-0 to begin 2005-06. The Huskies rank fourth in the country in field-goal percentage defense at 32.8 and 10th in 3-point defense at 26.2.

Last season, Washington allowed opponents to shoot 50.4 percent and 36.1 percent on 3s in a 5-4 start.

Coach Lorenzo Romar scheduled this contest partly because the Pac-12 tournament will be held in this arena. His team should be eager to face some stiff competition after crushing Grambling State 86-38 on Wednesday.

''Tonight was a good feeling," Romar said. "Not because of the score but because of our level of concentration."

Shawn Kemp Jr. scored 21 points and went 9 of 12 from the field while Nigel Williams-Goss recorded 11 assists as the Huskies shot a season-high 50.8 percent.

Robert Upshaw blocked four shots in 22 minutes. The 7-footer averages 4.8 blocks to lead Division I even though he doesn't start.

Romar employs a deep rotation with nine players logging at least 10.0 minutes per game. That group features three who have wingspans of nearly seven feet in Upshaw and starters Jernard Jarreau and Mike Anderson.

The Huskies will focus defensively on the Sooners' Buddy Hield (team-best 16.0 points per game), but the preseason all-conference selection ranks last among qualifying Big 12 players with a 38.3 shooting percentage.

''I feel a little relieved, but I still got to come and shoot more,'' Hield said. ''And I'm thankful for my teammates for finding me an open shot. Hats off to them for finding me good spots.''

Sooners guard Dinjiyl Walker suffered a shoulder injury in Tuesday's 85-53 victory over Oral Roberts and forward TaShawn Thomas a wrist problem. Both are expected to play Saturday.

Oklahoma has won two of three previous meetings with Washington, losing the last one 96-91 on Nov. 26, 2004.

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