Tahlequah Daily Press

January 8, 2014

Undersized OU set to host Kansas

By JOHN SHINN
CNHI

— Height is the most coveted trait in college basketball. Those who have it means they can play in space that cannot be defended.  

If Oklahoma (12-2, 1-0 Big 12) is missing one desirable attribute, it is the lack of a true skyscraper who dominate the paint. Junior D.J. Bennett is listed at 6-foot-10, but he only averages 10.4 minutes a game. It means the Sooners, typically, spend three-fourths of a game with a size disadvantage.

They spent all of it with one last Saturday in 88-85 victory over Texas. Bennett did not play. For 40 minutes, the Sooners battled the Longhorns’ size in the post without flinching.

In truth, they didn’t just battle it, they beat it. The scoreboard said so, but so did one other very important statistic — rebounding. The Sooners walked out of Texas’ Erwin Center plus 11 (39 to 28) in rebounding margin.

It was dominant performance considering the Sooners have averaged a little less than four rebounds more than their opponents this season. The effort is illustrated mores with forward Ryan Spangler only pulling down five boards against the Longhorns.

“Our guards have been doing a good job of getting down in there,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “It starts with Ryan, but throughout the year on different nights someone else typically jumps up there.”

The Sooners will needs other to jump in from all directions when they face No. 18 Kansas (9-4, 0-0) at 6 p.m. today at Lloyd Noble Center.

The ability to rebound with bigger teams will likely decide what kind of season the Sooners have. Few in the country boast more size and athleticism than the Jayhawks. They’ll bring a legitimate 7-footer to the floor with freshman center Joel Embiid.

However, Kansas hasn’t exactly dominated the glass either this season. Its plus 6.2-rebounding average is one of the biggest reasons the traditional power is off the slow start.

Rebounding, however, isn’t something that’s easily coached. There’s technique involved. Determination, above all else, is the key. The Sooners have shown it in all their big wins this season.

“I think everyone on our team can rebound,” Spangler said. “At the first of the season, it was just the bigs rebounding, but the emphasis has been on the guards come down and helping. When we’ve done that, we’ve played pretty well.”

Spangler has been a difference maker for the Sooners. There’s little debate that he’s the best rebounder to put on an OU uniform since Blake Griffin in 2009.

But in order for OU to play the up-tempo, run-and-gun style it wants to, it has to rebound at all five positions. Get run if you’re consistently catching the ball out of the net. It’s impossible to get defensive stops if you’re giving up second and third shots from point blank range. A team like Kansas will embarrass you under those circumstances.

The Sooners have had the lesson hammered home all season. They have two losses (No. 5 Michigan State and Louisiana Tech). They were beaten on the boards in both games.

It played Kansas twice last season. OU was roughed up on the glass in a 67-54 loss at Allen Fieldhouse. The Sooners achieved a rebounding stalemate in the Jayhawks’ visit to Lloyd Noble Center. The Sooners picked up a court-storming 72-66 victory win.

“This is gonna be a big test for us, but we’re gonna work hard and try to get the result,” OU forward Cameron Clark said.

If the result continues to be a couple more rebounds than the opponent, the Sooners may very well find themselves of the Big 12 Conference race.