They say revenge is a dish best served staring down an intimidating five-game stretch with a golden opportunity to salvage a season. Well, maybe they don’t, but that happens to be the case for the 17-8 (6-6) Texas Longhorns in Tuesday’s rematch with conference foe, the Oklahoma Sooners, who trampled Texas in Austin 70-49 earlier this season.
A look at the Sooners
The Sooners are looking to bounce back from an upset they suffered at the hands on Marcus Foster and Kansas State, whose last-second bomb from deep lifted the Wildcats over Oklahoma 59-56. The defeat came on a night where the Sooners glorified backcourt of Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard went 11-32 from the field and put up only 31 points. It’s safe to assume Texas won’t be as fortunate enough to be gifted with such a poor shooting night from their high-powered opponents in Norman.
Hield is currently the Big 12’s leading scorer with 17.4 per game, and that average has increased to 19 per game during conference play. As one of the most versatile, inside-and-out threats in the entire country, Hield can do damage from 25 feet an in, shooting .390 from deep on the season. Hield is by far the Sooners most confident and capable scorer and how quite Texas can keep him will go a long way in determining the outcome in this one.
Cousins and Woodard round out the Sooners perimeter threats. Both serve as combo guards with the ability to score and facilitate leading Cousins to averages of 11.9 points, five rebounds and 2.1 assists per, while Woodard has been the duel-threat floor general with nine points, 4.1 assists and 3.6 boards per game. Cousins, although slightly more inconsistent, will be more of a threat to watch for than Woodard. Texas can only hope to contain Hield. By making things rough for Cousins, Woodard – who isn’t relied upon for heavy scoring loads – would be pressured into contributing more on the scoreboard. All in all, the biggest ingredient for Texas finding success against Oklahoma’s perimeter trio is to just not allow them to live up to their usual contributions.
In the paint, Oklahoma features Ryan Spangler and TaShawn Thomas, the transfer from Houston. The two have managed to become the Sooners’ third and fourth leading scorers, with Thomas putting up 11 per game and Spangler adding 10.7. Although his scoring efforts can be hit-and-miss, Thomas’ has already proven this season he can be the difference in the game with a 24 point, eight rebound night in Oklahoma’s win over Baylor and 22 points and 11 board in last week’s victory over Iowa State. Thomas is a brute force that plays bigger than his 6’8", 240-pound frame and is always willing to do the dirty work down low, just as he did against Texas in the first meeting this season with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Spangler is more of a threat to stretch the floor and hit some mid-range jumpers, but is deceptively skilled at coming up with rebounds that often lead to second chance Oklahoma points. It will already be a tall task for Texas to keep up with Oklahoma on the scoreboard. Keeping Spangler, as well as Thomas off the glass is something Cam Ridley and the gang has to keep in mind.
The Sooners don’t have the most productive bench, which gives Texas the upper hand with their depth, but slowing down the starters can be a problem, just as we saw in early January. Oklahoma has the third most potent offense in the Big 12, scoring 72.4 per game. They try to make every game a shootout and challenge the opposition to keep up. For Texas, keeping up has been an issue this season.
What’s at stake?
As the first of a five-game skid where they will see ranked opponents in each outing, Texas has to get off on the right foot with a win in Norman. The Horns’ are currently on a three-game winning streak, which sounds good until you consider it came against Kansas State, TCU and Texas Tech – the three worst teams in the Big 12. Texas is still lacking on a impressive win to add to their tournament resume and failing to pick one up on Tuesday will only bring a greatest sense of desperation when the Longhorns host Iowa State Saturday.
With every game ahead for Texas being one that will make a win hard to come by, Texas has to continue to build some confidence after winning their last three, and that’s very possible with Oklahoma coming off of a bad loss where they lost at their own game. The tone for the rest of the season will be set Tuesday, making it a must-win.
Keys to the game for Texas
Get guys going early. To be able to match the inevitable numerous outputs from the Sooners’ core guys, Texas will need to get Isaiah Taylor, Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes going early. When Taylor finds his success, it makes the lives of everyone around him easier. Ridley has the size and ability to dominate down low where Oklahoma lacks depth and Holmes can provide a nice touch from the paint, as well as contribute in on the glass with hustle points and boards. These three will likely take the highest volume of shots for the Horns’, along with Javan Felix in the mix. For this offensively limited unit to survive Oklahoma, these guys have to have big games.
Just play your game. Oklahoma is going to try to make this an up and down, fast-paced game. Texas needs to strive for the exact opposite. If they engage in a shootout, they’ll lose. It’s as simple as that. Texas doesn’t have the offensive firepower to be able to match the quick threes and fast break looks Oklahoma will shoot for. They need to slow the pace down, find good, high percentage shots on offense and allow their defense to get back and use their size as an advantage, rather than trying to chase down Hield and Cousins in transition.
Pray Buddy Hield doesn’t go off. Hield can and will be the difference in this game. Completely shutting him down is out of the question, but Texas can hope that some set half-court defense will lead to Hield failing to reach his season average on the scoreboard. That, and of course, some favor from the basketball gods.
The Longhorns desperately needs this win at a key point in their season, but Oklahoma’s offensive will prove be too much.