By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — Oklahoma had the best player on the floor Wednesday night against Kansas. The problem it couldn’t overcome was that the 18th-ranked Jayhawks had the next best three.
OU’s Cameron Clark matched a career high with 32 points, but it wasn’t enough for the Sooners (12-3, 1-1 Big 12) in a 90-83 loss to the Jayhawks.
In many ways the game played out like it did the last time OU played a Final Four caliber team. Back in November, Clark set the career high against No. 5 Michigan State. The Sooners lost that game by nine because they couldn’t defend or keep the Spartans off the glass.
Kansas (10-4, 1-0) shot 55 percent (29 for 53) from the field and outrebounded the Sooners by 14.
“It’s very frustrating,” Clark said. “We’ve got to get back to the drawing board because it all starts on defense. Defense wins games. We have to figure out what it is and get better.”
Kansas was in an offensive slump when it arrived at Lloyd Noble Center. It was coming off a rare home loss to No. 21 San Diego State on Sunday. The Jayhawks only shot 29.8 percent in that game and freshman guard Wayne Selden only scored six points.
After eight minutes against the Sooners, Seldon had 13 points and Kansas was shooting nearly 70 percent from the field.
“It was just the confidence that my teammates and my coaches have in me. Just being out there playing and not thinking,” Seldon said after scoring 24 points, which was nine more than his career high.
OU knew it was going uphill in many different ways. Kansas has two projected NBA lottery picks with freshman guard Andrew Wiggins and center Joel Embiid. They were not much of a factor. Wiggins had nine points and Embiid finished with six.
But Kansas’ depth caused problems all night. Its size presented a matchup problem. The Sooners’ nightmare scenario came to fruition early when the fouls started piling up against the Sooners. By halftime, Clark and forward Ryan Spangler had both picked up two fouls. Spangler only played 23 minutes. Clark did his damage despite only playing 29.
“I’m just glad he only played 29 minutes,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “If he would’ve played 35 minutes, he would’ve gotten 40. We couldn’t guard him.”
But Kansas could afford to allow Clark to get hot. As long as it could hold the rest of OU’s roster in check and come up with rebounds, it was in the position it needed to be.
Spangler’s early fouls were the most detrimental. He’s OU’s best rebounder. The sophomore never got into the game’s flow on either end. He finished with four points and three rebounds.
It’s a wonder OU stayed in the game as long as it did under those circumstances. But the foul calls went both ways.
The Sooners went to the free-throw line 36 times and turned them into 29 points. Clark was 12 for 16 from the charity stripe and point guard Jordan Woodard scored all 10 of his points there.
Buddy Hield was the only Sooner who consistently got his hands on missed shots. He finished with eight rebounds to go along with 18 points.
But OU couldn’t match Kansas’ offensive firepower.
Perry Ellis added 22 points and Nadir Tharpe finished with 17.
Late in the first half, OU actually built a four-point lead after Hield sank two free throws after a technical foul on Self, and Clark connected on two more on the foul call.
But the lead was short-lived. Kansas closed the first half with an 11-1 run and then quickly built its lead up to 60-49 with a little more than 18 minutes left in the game.
OU battled the rest of the way. Three times it cut the deficit to four points in the final 6 minutes, 25 seconds.
The last came on Hield’s steal and dunk with 39 seconds to go. But OU never had the ball and a chance to tie the game. It couldn’t pile up enough stops to make the run.
“We played in spurts. We can’t play in spurts,” Clark said. “We’ve been talking about that all year. This is kind of our identity right now and we have to change that. We were knocking down shots but we couldn’t get stops or rebounds.”