Texas returns to the hardwood this afternoon for an important Big 12 showdown with the Oklahoma Sooners. Game tip is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.; the game will be televised regionally on ABC. (Check coverage map for your area.)
First Meeting: After falling behind 29-25 in the first half on ice cold shooting (30% from the floor), Texas got things together at halftime, began pushing the ball hard in the open court, and outscored OU 39-25 in the second half for a 64-54 victory in Norman.
Since Then: After losing to Texas, the Sooners traveled to Boulder and dropped their third straight game to fall to 3-5 in conference play, but since then, they've rebounded for three straight wins - versus Iowa State, at Texas Tech, and versus Baylor in overtime. The victory over Baylor might have been the most important of the season for Oklahoma, pushing their conference record to 6-5. If the season ended today, they'd most likely be an NCAA Tournament team.
For Texas, the first Oklahoma win was the second of the current six-game winning streak they're enjoying. With a huge Big Monday showdown looming in Manhattan, it's critical Texas protect home court tonight to stay in the race for the Big 12 regular season title.
Keys To The Game: Oklahoma's not a strong outside shooting team and struggles to score enough if they're only getting one look. The return of senior Longar Longar gives them yet another big, long body on the interior, so it's critical that Damion James not get in foul trouble this afternoon. With James on the floor, we're an outstanding defensive rebounding team; without him, I worry about our frontcourt being overwhelmed.
In the first meeting between these two teams, Andrew and I observed in the open thread at almost the same time: "This team can be run on." The Sooners are big, bulky, and poorly suited to an up-tempo game. For Texas, that means defensive rebounds should quickly be transitioned into scoring breaks on the other end. Oklahoma's half court defense is solid; it's transition defense leaves much to be desired.
In the half court offense, Texas has improved dramatically at working the ball inside to Gary Johnson, forcing the defense to stay honest on the interior. When we abandon that for the perimeter pick-n-weave, we struggle. We're at our best when we spread the floor, get the ball to Johnson on the block and let him maneuver for a shot or a kick out to open perimeter players. With OU's size and strength inside, we don't need to be stubborn about trying to score inside, but it is important we at least get the ball in there some to keep the defense honest.
Maybe Eduardo Najera, too. Just for old time's sake. Cheaters, the both of 'em.