Losers of three straight games, the Oklahoma Sooners suddenly have problems finishing off close games.
The previous two losses can likely be chalked up to the excellent play of Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham in the clutch, but OU's problems surrendering second half leads stretch beyond the Bedlam series.
The answer for the Sooners may be simple in name, but is difficult to execute night in and night out in the Big 12.
“We continue to try to focus on better offensive possessions at critical times,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “Sometimes it’s come down to making the right play, finishing the play. A lot of times if the shot goes in you feel good about what you did.
“The ones that are a little bit more correctable I guess are the ones where maybe you don’t get a shot of. We’ve got to take better care of the ball, we’ve got to value those possessions.”
Senior forward Brady Manek agreed that the mistakes are correctable, but acknowledged the task ahead is difficult.
“We’re not finishing plays offensively,” he said. “We’re giving up big rebounds on the defensive end, or you know, kind of trying to rush things maybe on the offensive and it causes a turnover or a bad shot or something.”
The Sooners were on a roll until their scheduled game against Baylor was postponed (and eventually canceled) due to COVID-19 protocols early in February. The next week, their home game agains the Texas Longhorns was pushed back twice until it was eventually moved to this Thursday. As a result, the OU’s hot streak cooled, and Oklahoma has struggled to regain their rhythm.
Starting in their double overtime win against West Virginia, Oklahoma has consistently built leads, only to give them away early in the second half in every single contest.
“We’re up in each ballgame in the last three ballgames, you know, well into the second half and we don’t have the type of possessions offensively that you need to do to widen the lead,” Kruger said. “So, you know, things like that again is not a major overhaul by any means, it’s just a little bit more focus on each possession.”
Guard Umoja Gibson said the Sooners had that late game magic earlier this season, and Kruger has been preaching a message of trust amidst the three game slide.
“Coach talked to us yesterday about making the right play and trusting one another,” Gibson said. “I feel like the games that we won have been won in the last three minutes.
“On the last three that we lost, we didn’t finish the games well. But I’m very confident in our team, and down the stretch we’re going to try and show our maturity.”
Oklahoma will have a chance to snap their losing streak ahead of the Big 12 Tournament when they host Shaka Smart and the Texas Longhorns in there regular season finale Thursday evening.
The opening tip from the Lloyd Noble Center is scheduled for 8 p.m., and the game will be broadcast nationwide on ESPN.