By JOHN SHINN
Perceptions change rapidly in college basketball. Oklahoma went from rising to dropping so fast after Saturday’s 52-50 loss to No. 18 Kansas State it might have caused whiplash.
However, OU coach Lon Kruger was not concerned with perceptions on Sunday. Reality was much more important. The immediate issue was figuring out how to kick-start his team offensively.
The performance against the Wildcats revealed the Sooners are not a well-oiled machine. They were held scoreless for over 10 minutes in the loss and under 70 points for the 11th time in 20 games. However, the offensive issues arose four days after OU shot 52.7 percent in a 74-71 victory at Baylor last Wednesday.
“The game before, we felt good about everything we were doing offensively. After the Kansas State game, we felt poorly about what we were doing offensively,” Kruger said. “We have to push the ball more in the backcourt and try to get some easy buckets in transition. We have to take advantage of penetration opportunities.”
Kruger is looking squarely at his backcourt. He is more than willing to do some shuffling to get OU (14-6, 5-3 Big 12) on track.
Sam Grooms, who only played two minutes in the Baylor game and spent the entire first half on the bench against Kansas State, is going to see more playing time. He earned it with seven points and two assists in 13 minutes against the Wildcats.
Above all else, Grooms played like the Sooners’ most motivated guard. The benching, which was the result of poor play on the defensive end, was a wake-up call.
“I’ll be honest, the assistant coaches and him (Kruger) talked to me everyday about it — consistently. They basically took the ball away from me,” Grooms said. “If it’s something that you love, you’ll figure out a way to get back out there. I just have to focus in on it and understand I have to do that to be able to play.”
Grooms’ case won’t be the last where Kruger uses the bench as a motivator. Starting point guard Je’lon Hornbeak and senior guard Steven Pledger spent most of the second half of the Kansas State game sitting next to Kruger.
The reason: you can’t get away with lackluster play at either of the court. Hornbeak didn’t handle the pressure Kansas State applied very well and neither did Pledger.
Both, however, will be needed against Iowa State (15-6, 5-3) at 6 p.m., tonight at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.
The Cyclones offer a completely different challenge. They have roster full of 3-point shooters to go with forward Melvin Ejim and will spread the floor and pick teams apart. Even when that’s not working, Iowa State seems to find ways to win. It’s coming off a 79-71 victory over Baylor Saturday night. The Cyclones were 4-for-24 from 3-point range, but still won their 19th straight home game.
“Guarding them is a big challenge. Everyone can shoot the 3 and they can space the floor and make it tough,” Kruger said.
Tough teams are the only teams that seem to beat Iowa State on its court. OU displayed toughness in winning at Baylor and hanging in against Kansas State despite a woeful offensive performance.
However, they have to put it together on both ends to win the tough games required to stay in the top half of the Big 12 Conference. The winner remains in a tie for third place in the league. The loser sinks all the way to sixth.
It’s the reality the Sooners face.