By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — Two weeks ago Oklahoma probably would’ve lost to Baylor. A week ago in Waco probably would’ve been a different outcome than Saturday’s 66-64 victory over the 12th-ranked Bears.
Through the first 16 games, OU just wasn’t good enough defensively to overcome an awful shooting half like the one it experienced in the opening 20 minutes of Saturday at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.
But that’s why this past week was a seminal week for the 25th-ranked Sooners (14-4, 3-2 Big 12). The second half of Tuesday’s loss at Kansas State coupled with the performance against the Bears is the best defense they’ve played all season.
“I thought the second half at Kansas State was a start,” OU coach Lon Kruger said.” A couple good days of practice transferred pretty good today. Playing good clubs every night out so we’ve got to keep getting better especially on that end of the floor.”
Over the last six quarters, the shooting percentage OU has allowed is 41.2 percent (45 for 109) and the 3-point percentage defense has dropped 32.1 percent (9 for 28).
Against Baylor, it was what allowed OU to win on a day it shot just 39.3 percent and get a 1-1 road split during a week the Sooners shot just 36.0 percent during the two games.
The defensive leap came at the perfect time. Saturday’s victory allowed OU to get through a brutal part of the Big 12 schedule where it played its first five games against the four teams that had been ranked conference play started — Kansas, Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor — as well as Texas.
Kansas currently leads the conference at 4-0. Kansas State is second at 4-1. The Sooners are tied with Oklahoma State and Texas at 3-2. The Cyclones are 2-3 and Baylor is a disappointing 1-3.
The win Saturday, staying above .500 and braving what appears to be the toughest 2 1/2 week stretch of the season is a momentum boost.
“Yeah, it’s way better than 2-3,” OU forward Ryan Spangler said of the conference record.” You don’t want to be there or we didn’t as a team. I think we just fought. We’ve been close the last 2-3 games that we let go. Today, we finally finished it and I think that taught us something.”
It was another game that was decided in the final minutes. That’s been the case in league game OU has played. They were outplayed the Jayhawks and Cyclones in the last five minutes. The Sooners did the outplaying against the Longhorns, Cyclones and Bears.
Perhaps, OU will get a break from the 40-minute grind this week. TCU (9-8, 0-5) comes to Lloyd Noble Center at 8 p.m. Wednesday. The Sooners travel to Texas Tech (10-8, 2-3) Saturday.
But this week will only be as easy as the Sooners make it. They’ve proven they can be good enough defensively to win tough games. If they get their offense going again — and the second half performance against the Bears was a huge step in that direction — the Sooners are building some serious momentum.