Cent. Arkansas-Oklahoma Preview
Oklahoma has one of the nation's top players in Buddy Hield, but his supporting cast is hardly devoid of talent.
The All-American looks to rebound from his first poor outing, and the sixth-ranked Sooners should also be able to showcase some others Thursday night against a Central Arkansas squad that hasn't won a road game in almost two years.
Hield averaged 25.3 points and 56.8 percent from the field while going 11 of 19 from 3-point range in the first three games. He struggled Sunday, going 5 of 16 from the floor, missing both 3s and scoring 12 points in a 65-48 win over Wisconsin.
That didn't prove to be much of a problem with fellow senior Ryan Spangler recording 20 points and 14 rebounds, Isaiah Cousins scoring 14 and the Sooners (4-0) putting forth another strong defensive effort, holding the rebuilding Badgers to 23.5 percent shooting.
''It's a game we'll grow from,'' coach Lon Kruger said. ''We know Buddy is going to bounce back, at least most of the nights. I know he feels good about other guys stepping up there when they do, too. That's the way he thinks about it.''
Spangler averages 13 points and a team-high 10 boards while Cousins is scoring 12.5 per contest and shooting 45.5 percent. Both are in their third seasons as full-time starters and capable of picking up the slack when Hield has an off-night.
Fellow starter Jordan Woodard is averaging 9.5 points and five other Sooners are scoring at least 3.0 per contest.
“It's huge anytime you can have different weapons on the floor,” Kruger said.
It's defense, though, that remains the Sooners' calling card.
They lead the nation in defensive field-goal percentage at 31.5, are in the top 10 against the 3-pointer at 23.2 percent and have held their last three opponents to an average of 55.7 points.
“Our talk on the court and positioning continues to get better,” Kruger said. “I like where we're at. The guys know how tough the road is and we have to continue to work and get better every day.”
The road likely won't be difficult Wednesday, and Oklahoma should have the opportunity to fine-tune some things while trying to go 5-0 for the first time since the 2008-09 team won its first 12. Oklahoma held on for a 76-73 home victory over Central Arkansas (1-5) in the only previous meeting Dec. 30, 2010, but figures to have an easier time Thursday.
The Bears' 25-game road losing streak is the longest active one in the nation and dates to a 76-75 victory over McNeese State on Jan. 30, 2014.
Central Arkansas is allowing averages of 85.0 points and 52.9 percent shooting. However, it showed some grit while rallying from a 10-point deficit before falling 79-73 at Arkansas-Little Rock on Tuesday.
Jordan Howard scored 22 as the Bears shot 48.9 percent but committed a season-high 19 turnovers.
“We're growing,” coach Russ Pennell told the school's official website. “We're a better team than we've been. But like I told them in the locker room, we can't be satisfied with playing people close.
“Because it's still a loss and it still stinks, but we have to learn from it and get better.”
Howard averages a team-leading 16.8 points.