Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

February 23, 2013

Grooms gets Sooners past Baylor

NORMAN — Maybe it was a threat or maybe just Romero Osby’s own menacing way to be a good teammate to Sam Grooms.

He was tired of seeing Grooms work so hard in practice to improve, only to continue passing up shots when game time rolled around. So, he told him to stop — or else.

The result has been the best offensive stretch of Grooms’ career.

Sam Grooms scored 23 points to set a new career best for the second time in three games, Steven Pledger had 17 of his 19 points in the first half as Oklahoma built a big lead and the Sooners held off Baylor’s comeback attempt for a 90-76 victory on Saturday.

“He says it every day: If I don’t shoot the shots that I shoot in practice in the games, how are people going to actually respect me?” said Grooms, who had scored 54 points in his first 22 games this season before piling up 53 in the past three games.

Grooms’ lack of confidence on offense was well-known by opponents, to the point that Baylor sagged off of him and never sent a defender at him as he was wide open on the left wing in the first half. He drilled a 3-pointer for his first points, another sign that Grooms is giving up his reluctance to be an offensive contributor.

Of course, Osby is trying not to give him a choice.

“Tell them what I said I was going to do to you if you didn’t,” said Osby, a 6-foot-8 power forward.

Grooms, the point guard, offered only that Osby “said some things that motivated me.”

“I’m just a senior and I want to win right now, so if that’s going to help the team, I’m just going to do whatever it takes at this point in time,” Grooms said.

Big 12 scoring leader Pierre Jackson scored 24 of his 28 points after changing shoes at halftime, but was unable to get Baylor (16-11, 7-7 Big 12) any closer than 12 after trailing by 26 at the half.

Jackson and Isaiah Austin combined for 10 of Baylor’s points during a 13-2 run that cut Oklahoma’s lead down to 51-36 with 13:15 to play. That was still far too little to recover after Jackson’s poor shooting start and Austin’s foul-plagued first half.

Coach Scott Drew opened his postgame comments with an apology to the program’s fans for “the worst job of coaching I’ve done this year in the first half.”

“I apologize for the team’s effort and lack of focus and intensity in the first half. Baylor deserves better than that,” Drew said.

The Bears could have tied Oklahoma (18-8, 9-5) in the conference standings with a win, but instead got swept in the season series after doing the sweeping a season ago.

“We need to just play with intensity from the jump,” said Brody Heslip, who had nine of his 11 points after halftime. “In the second half, we came fired up. We were just flying around, just making things happen, getting tips, getting loose balls.

“We just can’t come out stagnant, acting like ‘We’re here.’ We’ve got to come out hungry and intense on defense.”

Grooms did most of his damage at the free-throw line, drawing frequent fouls as Baylor resorted to full-court pressure after falling behind. He went 15 for 17 on foul shots and Oklahoma went 39 for 45 to set season-highs in both categories.

Grooms was making his second straight start after scoring what was then a career-high 18 points in an overtime loss at Oklahoma State.

“I just told him to play with confidence because a lot of times last year, he would get down on himself. Even early this year when people would sag off of him, he still would hesitate,” said Osby, who scored 17. “I was just saying, ‘Let it fly. If you miss it, you miss it. If you make it, you make it. We all miss shots and make shots.’ But I just told him that he works on his game too much to not take those shots in a game.”

After missing seven of his eight shots in the first half, Jackson switched from a pair of bright gold shoes that matched Baylor’s uniforms to a pair of fluorescent yellow ones. He also got more aggressive, attacking the basket after taking all but one of his shots from 3-point range in the first half, and became the fifth Bears player to surpass 1,000 points in his first two seasons.

The Bears eventually got within 82-70 after Jackson’s two free throws with 2:20 to go, but that’s as close as it got.

Oklahoma took charge early, convincing the Bears to get out of their zone defense by hitting four straight 3-pointers and then pushing the lead to 19-8 after a three-point play by Je’lon Hornbeak. It only got worse for Baylor in the final 5 minutes of the first half.

With Jackson misfiring and the 7-footer Austin on the bench with two fouls, the Sooners got going on a 16-0 run that included 12 free throws — half of them by Grooms. Midway through the run, Drew tried to re-insert Austin and stop the bleeding, only for Austin to pick up his third foul. He tried to pull up while tracking down a rebound that Grooms corralled, and couldn’t stop himself from leaning onto Grooms’ back.

L.J. Rose finally stopped the scoring drought by making one of two free throws with 5.5 seconds left, but the Bears let Osby race to the other end for an easy lay-up that made it 47-21 at halftime.

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