March 06, 2015

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Once TaShawn Thomas decided to leave Houston after a coaching change, the talented forward was left trying to figure out where to finish his career.

Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler made the best recruiting pitch.

''When we first met, he came out front and said, `We need you. I need you,''' Thomas said. ''Ever since then, I feel like our connection has been on point. In the locker room, we hang out, and on the court, it just shows.''

The pair of 6-foot-8 post players have formed a 1-2 punch that has made Oklahoma difficult to handle on both ends of the floor. They will team up for one last home game Saturday when No. 15 Oklahoma (20-9, 11-6 Big 12) hosts No. 9 Kansas (24-6, 13-4).

Thomas, a senior, averages 11.2 points per game in league play and ranks fourth in the conference in field-goal percentage (.475), sixth in rebounding (7.0) and seventh in blocked shots (1.41). Spangler averages 10.3 points per game overall. In league play, he ranks first in the conference in field-goal percentage (.576), fourth in rebounding (7.2) and seventh in blocks (1.41).

Last year, Spangler handled most of the work around the basket for the Sooners and got some extra attention. With Thomas on the floor, Spangler has more room to operate.

''I think it's opened both of us up,'' Spangler said. ''We kind of do the same thing - work for shots around the rim and run the court, so I think them not being able to double-team me rebounding or running the court - one of us are going to be able to do it because they can't get both of us.''

Their strong communication and willingness to play team ball has helped their teammates.

''They both have a good feel for what's going on defensively,'' Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. ''Both have rebounded the ball well. Both are good passing big buys out of the post. They've played very easily together.''

Thomas has added versatility and depth to Oklahoma's inside game. His touch around the rim, steady mid-range jumper and ability to pull opposing big men away from the hoop and beat them off the dribble have carried the Sooners at times when the offense has bogged down. He has had some huge games - 25 points at Tulsa, 24 points at home against Baylor and 22 points and 11 rebounds at home against Iowa State.

''TaShawn's meant a lot to our club,'' Kruger said. ''You think back through the year and how many times he's made big plays, big blocks, big rebounds. I think he's a really good guy. Good teammate, mature, fits in well. The results on the floor wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable if he wasn't a good teammate and a good guy.''

Spangler was named Big 12 Player of the Week earlier in the season, an impressive honor for someone who was a rugged role player last year. At one point this season, he scored in double digits in nine consecutive games.

''He's matured as a player, as a leader, and will continue to do that because he works so hard,'' Kruger said. ''He has a great attitude about team. Whatever he can do to help the team. It starts with his rebounding and his grit and his work ethic, but he's improved offensively. He's making that mid-range jumper, he's scoring from the low post more. He'll keep getting better.''


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