Oklahoma basketball: Sooners pull out of tailspin, return to form by beating Kansas State

NORMAN, Okla. — There was something different in the air at Lloyd Noble Center on Saturday. The energy Oklahoma lacked for the better part of a month reappeared. It was the kind of verve that arrives when preparation and desperation mix.

“I felt like our season was on the line,” Oklahoma guard Christian James said.

The Sooners played like a team no longer willing to wait for the breaks to come their way. They seized on whatever fueled them in an 86-77 victory over Kansas State on Saturday.

The six-game losing streak Oklahoma (17-11, 7-9 Big 12) carried into the game hung around them like cement shoes for most of the month. Over the last four weeks, the Sooners went from the toast of college basketball to punch line.

Kansas State (20-9, 9-7) was one of the first teams to punch holes in Oklahoma’s facade, rolling to an 18-point victory over the Sooners at Bramlage Coliseum on Jan. 16.

The Sooners were different on Saturday. They put Kansas State on its heels. Trae Young put Kansas State on its heels.

Oklahoma bore a striking resemblance to that team from December and January that could dazzle you at any moment. Young announced that less than a minute into it when he buried a deep 3-pointer from the top of the key. The bounce in his step returned and the shooting range was limitless.

“I just shot it like I usually do, but it’s always good when you hit your first one,” said Young, who was just 5 for 32 from 3-point range in the four games leading up to Saturday. “It was a good way to start the game and I think it carried over throughout the whole game.”

Young scored 28 points and was 7 for 10 from the field. Six of the makes were from 3-point range and he added 7 assists. Young wasn’t the only Sooners player shooting with confidence. James scored 15 points and Jamuni McNeace and Brady Manek added 10 apiece.

The Sooners shot 52.7 percent (29 for 55) from the floor and connected on 11 of 22 3-point attempts. It was their best shooting performance since January.

“Every time we made a push, they seemed to have an answer,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “They made a lot of big plays and they came from a lot of different people.”

Oklahoma finds its identity

The Sooners’ sense of self is wrapped up in their ability to make shots. They’re one of the highest-scoring teams in college basketball. When shots fall, everything else improves.

It was no surprise that it happened to coincide with a solid defensive effort. Guard Barry Brown scored 28 points to lead the Wildcats and Dean Wade added 15. But Kansas State went 4 for 21 from 3-point range.

“When you get off to a good start, make some shots early, it kind of picks everyone up,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “I thought defensively we were more active, more involved, more engaged, and we got to keep doing a better job on both ends.”

Oklahoma isn’t going to win many defensive struggles. It is 1-9 when scoring 80 points or less. But it plays with an edge when the jumpers are falling. That sharpness hadn’t been seen since January.

Oklahoma is back inside the bubble

If the NCAA Tournament bracket had been announced Saturday morning, the Sooners were still a lock for an at-large bid. After all, they were No. 33 in the Rating Percentage Index. They’ll at least hold that spot after the victory over Kansas State (No. 52 in the RPI). They could move up with victory at Baylor (No. 58 in the RPI) on Tuesday.

The assumption heading into Saturday was if the Sooners could just win their final two home games — Kansas State and Iowa State on March 2 — they’re secure.

The outcome against the Wildcats showed Oklahoma is capable of something much better than what it showed throughout much of February.

“We made progress this week. Like these guys have said, it’s good to win a game. That’s a big boost right there,” Kruger said.

The post Oklahoma basketball: Sooners pull out of tailspin, return to form by beating Kansas State appeared first on Diehards.

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