It’s not often that a team has an entire week off this late in the season, but No. 16 Oklahoma (19-8, 10-5) has it – and the Sooners are darn glad they do.
“It’s really good,” Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “It’s good for a couple reasons. No. 1, at this time of year, it’s been such a grind in the Big 12. Every time you line up, you’re playing against a ranked team. So this week off, we get to sharpen some things up and also find the balance between rest and recovery and getting our bodies fresh. So it’s a good time for the break.”
Oklahoma beat Texas Tech, 79-75, in overtime this past Saturday. While winning on the road in the Big 12 is never easy, Kruger wanted to see more from his players, especially after beating Texas Tech by 45 points less than a month earlier.
“We got to keep getting better across the board,” Kruger said. “I thought Tech played great. Tubby Smith does such a good job. He had his guys playing hard and ready, and it was a battle – as you expect it to be on the road in the Big 12. But we got to get better defensively on the ball. We got to get a little bit more physical rebounding the basketball. It’s hard to change something like that over night, but we got to get better in the next few days.”
Kruger would also like to see more from his bench, especially since four of his five starters are averaging 30+ minutes per game.
“We definitely need more from our bench,” he said. “The last couple games, we’ve actually got pretty good production. Frank Booker and Dinjiyl Walker, D.J. Bennett, Khadeem Lattin – those guys are getting more comfortable and getting more productive – not just in scoring, but defensively and rebounding the ball as well. So we’ve got to keep getting better production off the bench.”
Luckily, the Sooners are getting plenty from their starters. In fact, Oklahoma is the rare Division I team that has used the same starting five in all 27 of its games this season. As Kruger can attest, continuity is always a good thing. So is experience.
“These guys have been through the Big 12 grind last year and then the NCAA Tournament, so they know how tough it is every night they line up,” he said. “So they’re not surprised by anything there. Yet, they know what lies ahead: three games in Big 12 play. Each of them will be very challenging.”
Oklahoma hosts TCU (16-11, 3-11) this Saturday at 2 p.m. ET, plays at No. 12 Iowa State (20-6, 10-4) on March 2 and closes the regular season against No. 8 Kansas (22-6, 11-4) on March 7.
The Sooners are in the driver’s seat for the conference title – pretty impressive given that five teams in the Big 12 are ranked in the top 20 nationally.
“They’re aware of that,” Kruger said of his players. “It’s nice to be able to control your destiny, but again, it’s only about the next game. It’s there for us, but it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t change anything we have to do preparing to play as well as we possibly can the next game. And again, other teams have very tough stretches down the road too in the Big 12, so we just got to keep surviving and move on.”