Losers of three straight, the Oklahoma Sooners need a win.
OU’s season has come to a screeching halt after Porter Moser’s team mostly breezed through the non-conference slate, picking up then-ranked wins over Florida and Arkansas.
Now just six games into the Big 12 slate, the Sooners have fallen to 12-6 overall, posting a 2-4 mark in conference play.
And while OU’s conference record is understandable considering four of Oklahoma’s six Big 12 contests have been against ranked opponents, the Sooners need a home win over the No. 5 Baylor Bears (16-2, 4-2) on Saturday to avoid losing four games on the bounce.
Still, despite the recent struggles, Moser said he’s been pleased with how his team has attacked the preparation for Baylor coming off a close home defeat to the No. 7-ranked Kansas Jayhawks.
“We’ve come up a play short in two games in a row,” Moser said in a Zoom press conference on Friday. “We have to find a way. We’re doing some really good things. We’ve got to continue to find ways get over that hump.”
The team echoed Moser’s sentiment, understanding they’ll have to play much better to turn their fortunes around, but point guard Jordan Goldwire said the team spirit hasn’t deflated over the recent losing streak.
“I think the tone in the locker room right now is just a bunch of guys that we still enjoying each other and having a good time,” Goldwire said in a Zoom press conference on Friday. “But we kind of understand the situation that we're in, the amount of games that we've dropped. And I think I just see a push to want to get better, want to get a win.”
OU will have a familiar foe as their next target, looking for an upset to propel the team to a strong January finish.
Baylor is the first team the Sooners will square off against twice over the course of this year’s round robin, just weeks after Oklahoma had a chance to late to pull within one possession of the top-ranked Bears in Waco.
Scott Drew’s squad ultimately came away with the 84-74 victory after icing the game at the free throw line, but had it not been for a 34-16 Baylor rebounding advantage, the Sooners’ fortunes could have been much different.
“They saw the rebounding, they saw it first hand,” Moser said. “You saw Baylor — we talked the first time, they’re elite at tipping it back. It’s something to watch for. They teach it, they tip it back. If they can’t grab it, they tip it.”
If the Sooners weren’t taking Baylor’s rebounding threat seriously ahead of the first matchup between the two teams, Baylor will certainly have OU’s attention. But the Bears won’t be overlooking anyone on Saturday as they look to play themselves out of a rough patch of their own.
Since last beating Oklahoma, the Bears dropped a pair of games to No. 18 Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. The three-headed monster of L.J. Cryer, Adam Flagler and Matthew Mayer appear to be rolling in the absence of leading scorer James Akinjo, however, as the trio combined for 59 points in Baylor’s win over West Virginia last time out.
Along with turning around the rebounding battle and keeping Baylor’s explosive offense in check, the Sooners will have to limit their own mistakes.
OU turned the ball over 17 times in their first meeting with the Bears, and the Sooners rank 297th in the country, coughing up the ball a staggering 14.6 times per game.
There will be plenty of energy inside the Lloyd Noble Center as the Sooners play host to a top five team, but Oklahoma will have to manage the feelings of excitement to steadily run the offense and prevent unnecessary mistakes.
“You want to have a big game but you know it's not about you,” Goldwire said. “It's just about the team and getting whatever the best shot is for that possession. And throughout the whole game you've got to take good shots and value each possession.
“So I don't think it's hard to do that. We have had problems with turnovers, so I think that's just something we need to limit. We cut that down a little bit last game against Kansas, but we need to lower that rate even more.”
Moser credited the mentally of his veteran group, as he believes they haven’t been abandoning the game plan when things get tough. Instead, Moser said his team has just come up a bit short on actually making the plays to get over the hump and escape with a victory.
“I don’t think they’re pressing,” Moser said. “I don’t think they’re getting their head down. They know the level of competition we are playing every night and they also know we can compete against that. We have to get some shots to fall. You talk about a one-possession game, look at what we’re shooting the last two games.
“We have to get some shots to fall.”
Oklahoma will get their shot to get things back on track on Saturday afternoon, as the second battle of the season with the Bears will tip off at 2 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN+.
“We understand who we’re playing and we understand that we’re a good team,” Moser said. “We’re going to keep fighting.”
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