NORMAN- In the absence of their leading scorer, the Oklahoma Sooners played their most complete game of the season.
The Sooners closed out their non-conference slate, defeating the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros 91-72.
Before the game, Lon Kruger announced Kristian Doolittle would miss the game due to a “conflict of interest.”
Kur Kuath entered the starting lineup for Doolittle and made his presence felt early.
Austin Reaves connected with Kuath for the play of the night just a minute and a half into the game. Jamal Bieniemy pushed the ball down the court to Reaves, who then laid the ball off the glass for the trailing Kuath to slam home.
Reaves said his pass off the backboard to Kuath was no mistake.
“I heard him scream “backboard,” so if my big man is gonna run I’m gonna reward him,” Reaves said after the game.
In the first four minutes of the game, Kuath scored eight points (including three dunks), as well as recording two rebounds and a block.
“I just came in with a chip on my shoulder knowing my team needs me tonight,” Kuath said. “I just thought I’d bring energy to the floor and leave it all on the court.”
“It felt great.”
Kruger was pleased with Kuath’s contribution.
“I thought he played his minutes against Central Florida really well,” Kruger said. “He’s had four really good days of practice.”
Kruger also said he thought Kuath’s great start early sparked the team to play with a high intensity the entire first half.
“Guys were excited for him to see him get in there and have those results and I thought it picked everyone up.”
Once Kuath came back down to earth, Brady Manek took over the game.
Manek finished with a career high 29 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
“It was a lot of fun,” Manek said. “I had a really good stretch there.”
Manek did a little bit of everything, shooting 4-of-8 from deep and getting to the rim. He also grabbed seven rebounds and had one assist.
The Sooners finally asserted themselves on the boards, out rebounding UTRGV 48-28. While Oklahoma boasted a size advantage against the Vaqueros, the Sooners still made it a point of emphasis to feed their bigs, logging a season-high 38 points in the paint.
Oklahoma will now turn the page to Big 12 Conference play as they will host Kansas State on Jan. 4.
Kruger said he hopes his team will be able to build on their strong performance.
“Always nice going into conference play with a good feeling about what you’re doing,” he said.
Doolittle will play in the conference opener against the Wildcats, Kruger said after the game.
“[Doolittle] just made a decision contrary to team stuff,” Kruger said. “It’s behind us.”
Oklahoma and Kansas State are scheduled to tip off at 12 p.m. on ESPN+.