By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — There are players that Oklahoma’s coaching staff will never try to hold back when it comes to attempting something bold. Any time Amath M’Baye feels like testing the limits of athletic ability, no one on the Sooners’ bench is going to put up a stop sign.
“When he’s aggressive, we are a better team,” teammate Romero Osby said.
The Sooners (13-5, 4-2 Big 12) need M’Baye to play that way when they face Baylor (14-5, 5-1) at 6 tonight at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. And that’s the direction the junior forward has been moving since conference play began earlier this month.
Over the last six games, M’Baye is averaging 11.3 points and 6.0 rebounds. They’re respectable numbers, but talk to anyone around OU’s program and the feeling is something great is on the verge of emerging. However, it’s a matter of getting M’Baye’s confidence level to expand.
There’s pressure that comes with being the Big 12 Conference’s newcomer of the year, which he was named back in November. It means everyone is expecting a difference-making player to take the court every single day.
Those expectations didn’t just come from fans, coaches or teammates. M’Baye holds them as well. When he struggled in the middle of December, the 6-foot-9 forward was asking himself why. Every time he got the ball he was thinking more than reacting. There was no confidence to lean on.
“He works so hard and he’s so conscientious, he burdens himself with doing everything great all the time, and it just wasn’t happening for him,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “I think the best thing about him is he just kept working at it and plugging away. He’s got himself back around.”
There have been periods where M’Baye has been that explosive player everyone around him sees daily. In last Saturday’s loss at Kansas. M’Baye only scored 12 points, but he was never passive.
One of the most memorable plays that afternoon was M’Baye’s attempted dunk over Kansas center Jeff Withey. M’Baye was called for a charge, but teammates were fine with the boldness of what he was attempting.
“I saw a picture of it and both he and Withey were both way above the rim. I was like, ‘If he can get a couple of those down, people are gonna be scared of him,’” Osby said. “It’s good to see that aggression and him attacking the rim like that.”
Tonight’s his next chance to show what he really can do. The Bears are a long and athletic team. There are ways to beat them, but M’Baye gives OU the opportunity to fight fire with fire.
They need more of that boldness to materialize in big moments. Those around him believe it’s right around the corner. M’Baye has the same opinion.
“I’m just feeling good with this team, this offense and this coaching staff,” he said. “I try to do as much extra work as I can to feel more comfortable every day. The coaching staff has been great. They helped me through it. They were watching film with me in the morning and talking to me during practice. My teammates have done a great job of finding me where I’m comfortable to score. I’m definitely feeling better in the offense.”