Surprising Sooners rise to 3rd in Big 12

BY foxsports • February 5, 2011

That's not a mistake in the Big 12 standings. Oklahoma is sitting right there behind No. 3 Texas and No. 2 Kansas.

The Sooners (12-9, 4-3 Big 12) weren't even above .500 three weeks ago, but have run off four straight wins to pull into a tie for third with No. 16 Texas A&M heading into Saturday's Bedlam game at Oklahoma State (15-7, 3-5).

Picked to finish 11th in a preseason poll of the league's coaches, Oklahoma instead is the Big 12's big surprise at the midway point of conference play.

''Right now, we're sitting real pretty tied for third place and that's an awesome feeling to have, but there's a lot of games left and a lot of things can happen,'' Cade Davis said after finishing an extra shooting session following practice Friday. ''We still want to maintain that spot and keep going up the charts.''

A rebuilt roster with seven newcomers is starting to jell, particularly on defense, but the Sooners' schedule is also about to stiffen up. Four of the next six games are on the road, and four of the six games that follow Bedlam are against Top 25 opponents.

Looming ahead in the next three weeks are visits from the conference's two powerhouses plus trips to No. 14 Missouri and Texas A&M.

But first, it's time for Davis - the team's lone senior - to play his final time in Gallagher-Iba Arena. The majority of his team hasn't experienced the in-state rivalry even once.

''I'm excited for it,'' Davis said. ''I'm excited for these guys to experience it, and hopefully my last round there will be a victory and all will be well in the world.''

After being susceptible to straight-line drives right to the hoop early in the season, the Sooners have made strides to the point that coach Jeff Capel now trusts his man-to-man defense along with the variety of zones he had deployed while Oklahoma was starting out 8-9.

''We're playing scrappy D, we're playing hard. It's really helped us out,'' said Carl Blair, who has taken over as the starting point guard after transferring in from New Orleans.

''We've found our identity: a tough, defensive team. You're always going to win when you play good defense and you're able to score on the other end.''

The Sooners started their win streak by holding three straight opponents to less than 41 percent shooting. The last victory came courtesy of a 24-3 come-from-behind rally in the second half against Baylor. In all four games, they've had fewer turnovers than their opponent.

''We've just been playing as a team. We've been buckling down on the defensive end. That's probably our main focus and the main tribute to our winning,'' Davis said. ''We've been getting stops, we've been holding teams to below their scoring average and when that happens we think pretty highly of ourselves playing offense.''

There were reasons to think Oklahoma would be down this season. Former McDonald's All-Americans Willie Warren, Tiny Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin all turned pro and were among five underclassmen to leave the program, and three seniors finished their careers with the Sooners' first nine-game losing streak since 1964 and first losing season since 1981.

Capel brought in nine new players - two of them have already left - and has crunched down his rotation to little more than his starting five. Davis, Blair, Andrew Fitzgerald, Steven Pledger and Cameron Clark are averaging 36.6 minutes during the win streak, including an overtime win at Iowa State.

''Jeff's done a great job of really working with his team from the beginning of the season through right now, as far as just getting better each game and utilizing their strengths as a team and figuring out what works with this team,'' Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. ''It's been very impressive - definitely.''

The Cowboys picked up a little bit of pre-Bedlam momentum, snapping a three-game losing streak by beating No. 14 Missouri 76-70 on Wednesday night.

''We still have some areas we've got to get better at to hopefully reach the potential of whatever this team's potential is,'' Ford said. ''We still have some breakdowns that we've got to correct and get better at on a consistent basis.''

Of course, it wasn't that long ago that Oklahoma seemed down and out after an 0-3 start to conference play.

''They didn't put their heads too far down. They just continued to work and because of that, some good things have happened for them,'' Capel said.

''The thing we can't do now is that we can't be satisfied with it. Hopefully, this makes us a little bit hungry.''

share story