Baylor-Oklahoma Preview

Oklahoma’s one-two punch of Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins proved too much for Baylor to handle last season – until the Big 12 tournament.

That’s when the No. 22 Bears avenged two regular-season defeats to the No. 18 Sooners, and these clubs seek to start the new conference season on a winning note Saturday in Norman.

"We know how tough conference play is going to be," said coach Lon Kruger, whose Sooners are among six ranked Big 12 teams. "Obviously, guys are looking forward to that challenge."

Oklahoma (9-3) swept Baylor in the 2013-14 regular season, as Hield and Cousins combined for 68 points on 52.2 percent shooting.

Whatever adjustments Bears coach Scott Drew made in the Big 12 tournament paid off as his team posted a 78-73 win that was critical to cementing Baylor’s fourth NCAA tournament berth in seven years. Hield and Cousins combined to make 8 of 22 shots for 21 points.

Slowing down this high-scoring duo figures to be the best chance for Baylor (11-1) to gain a seventh straight win and earn just its third victory at Oklahoma in its last 19 tries.

Hield figures to be especially comfortable at the Lloyd Noble Center, where he is shooting 52.1 percent compared to 30.7 percent elsewhere.

Hield scored 17 and Cousins added 11 as the Sooners improved to 6-0 at home with Wednesday’s 61-43 win over George Mason.

"I think we are at a good starting point," Hield said. "Coach has done a great job from the summer time up until now and we are just going to keep getting better and we are ready. We have been waiting for this moment – for conference time – and we have something to prove."

Oklahoma may feel it has something to prove since the loss to Baylor was part of a bitter end to the season, which concluded with an upset loss to North Dakota State in the NCAA tournament.

The Bears lost their top two scorers from last season’s club but have shown they can be stingy on the defensive end. They entered the weekend ninth in the country in allowing 54.7 points per game.

Offense has been more of an issue, though that wasn’t the case Tuesday during an astounding 60-point second half in a 92-51 victory over Norfolk State, which trailed by five at the break.

Royce O’Neale scored 15 points in a 23-2 run to open the second half and finished with a career-high 23 even though he and the other starters sat the final 12:28 once the contest became a rout.

"I hit one, and they said they were going to keep coming back to me," O’Neale said. "I just felt it, so I was letting them go and they were dropping."

O’Neale is fourth in the conference in 3-point shooting at 44.2 percent with teammate Taurean Prince first at 54.8.

Shooting from the perimeter will be difficult for both teams. Baylor allows opponents to shoot 26.8 percent on 3s for the Big 12’s best mark, with Oklahoma second at 27.6.

The Bears are one of the nation’s best in rebound margin, ranking second in the conference at plus-11.8. The Sooners are last in the Big 12 at plus-2.5.