After losing seven of their last nine games, including four-straight, No. 23 Oklahoma (16-10, 6-8) needed a win in the biggest of ways. They were close to breaking through against West Virginia, Iowa State, and Texas Tech in their last three games, and fell short. Today, Oklahoma came charging back to get right behind Texas (16-11, 6-8) at 45-44 with 13:12 left in the game, but the Longhorns went on a 10-0 run and did not look back, earning a sweep of the Sooners with a 77-66 win.
“It was a ballgame where I thought Texas had more pop from the start. I thought they dictated in the first half,” Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger said in his opening statement. “We tried to make a little run there in the second half and couldn’t get over the hump. Seemed like we were fighting up hill all day.
“Texas did a good job. We didn’t make shots and didn’t have the same energy on the boards or energy defensively. You wish that wasn’t the case but that was the way it worked. We have to get back to work. We have a lot of areas where we need to improve.”
Freshman Trae Young has played over 35 minutes in eight straight games, shooting below 40 percent in five of those games. Shaka Smart said after the game that the guys going through this league for the first time are playing “on fumes” this time of the year. Seasonal fatigue or not, Young has not been the same player he was at the beginning of the season. His last four games have been his worst stretch of the season so far, but Lon Kruger knows its hard to pinpoint the exact reasoning behind that.
“It’s hard to measure of course. When just look at results, it’s easy to come to that conclusion. (Young and Manek) both seem fresh, energized,” Kruger said. “Trae has a lot on his plate. We expect a lot from him and load him up pretty good. Defenses are targeting him. It would be nice to get him a few more breaks during the course of a ballgame. We don’t have a lot of luxury there. He’ll keep battling. He’s very competitive. No doubt they all keep working at it.”
Young, who has been asked about his fatigue multiple times over the last two weeks, says he is feeling just fine despite his heavy workload.
“I’m feeling good. I’m 19 years old and this is something I love doing. I’m OK. I’m feeling fine,” He said. “It’s just, like I said, I’m being guarded like nobody else in the country. It’s a lot tougher for me to score now than it was in the beginning. That’s expected from anybody who can play like I can. We’re fine. We still have a chance to win the national championship, and that’s all that matters now. We have to get better each and every game and take it day-by-day.”
Texas made things difficult for Young once again, too. Texas guard Kerwin Roach picked the freshman up whenever he crossed the half-court line, and forced the sharpshooter to attack the paint. It is in the paint that stood 7-foot center Mo Bamba, who also has a 7-foot-9 wingspan.
This is the same game plan many teams have started to use against the star freshman in conference play, and kept him to 7-of-21 shooting against the Longhorns. He finished with 26 points (9-9 free throw), seven assists, and five rebounds. Young has lacked a shooting and scoring consistency since Big 12 play started, but he does not plan to change anything to what got him here.
“I do the same routine each and every day. Get here the same time every day, I do the same stuff every day. I’m not going to change because that’s what’s gotten me to this point in the first place,” Young said. “I haven’t been shooting good these past few games. Nothing’s going to change for me because that’s what the great ones do. They don’t change their routine because that’s what made them great in the first place.”
Oklahoma has now lost five-straight games, and eight of their last ten. The Sooners rise from an 11-20 team to a contender happened fast, and their fall from being a contender to being right near the bubble has happened just as fast.
“I mean, it’s tough. I mean, when you win a game in Big 12, that’s big. Like I said, toughest conference in America,” Young said about this stretch. “I’m getting guarded like nobody else in the country is being guarded. Scouted on like no one else in the country is. It’s a mystery coming out each and every game, trying to figure out how a team is going to guard me and how I’m going to dictate how my team wins.