Osby, Sooners end rivalry skid, beat Texas
NORMAN, Okla. - Let's just start with this:
Oklahoma's Amath M'Baye is the most-exciting, dynamic, you-gotta-rewind-that-and-see-this-again, kind of player around here since Blake Griffin.
Maybe that's why folks are showing up these days at Sooner basketball games. Maybe that's why Oklahoma is winning again, too.
But let's finish with this:
The reason Oklahoma beat Texas 73-67 Monday night, is 4-1 in the Big 12 Conference and, most importantly, on track to make the NCAA tournament is Romero Osby.
M'Baye provided the highlights Monday and the powerful 6-foot-8 Osby was good for just about everything else, including a career-best 29 points and a couple of "need-em" free throws in the last minute. All of that was enough to beat Texas and more than enough to keep the momentum churning along in what is becoming a remarkable Sooner turnaround.
A season ago, the Sooners had five conference wins and 15 wins total. This year, they've got 13 wins and have spiked in skill, effort and even entertainment value.
What was a grind of a team under the fired Jeff Capel for his three seasons without Griffin, as well as new coach Lon Kruger's first season a year ago, has turned into an AND1 display of dunks, lobs and excitement, starting with Osby and finishing with M'Baye.
The result hasn't been too bad either. For example, Oklahoma snapped a six-game losing streak in the rivalry and won for only the third time in the last 16. And Monday, the Sooners were the better team going in and the better team when it was over. Texas had eight turnovers in the first five minutes of the game, couldn't defend the Sooners in the second half and couldn't stop Osby and M'Baye all game.
"Ro's leadership has been invaluable to the entire group," said Kruger. "He sets the bar for everyone. Guys appreciate the fact that he's all about team and no one puts more time in or works harder. Everyone else rallies around him.
And then this:
"When you got Ro going like that it's hard not to get him the ball. All of us played off of Romero. He was fantastic all night long."
Osby wound up nine-of-15 shooting, 10 of 11 from the free throw line, had eight rebounds, two blocks, three steals and no turnovers. That's a long way from two seasons ago when Capel brought in Osby as a transfer from Mississippi State. He sat out the season and watched as OU went 14-18 and Capel got fired. Then last year, Osby started every game and averaged 12.9 points but had little help around him. The Sooners went 15-16 and missed the tournament for the third season in a row.
And now this year, with the 6-foot-9 M'Baye on the business end of the dunks and contributing a presence down low, Osby has been consistent and just this side of All-Conference material. He's averaging team bests of 13.6 points and 6.4 rebounds, including getting 15.8 points per game in conference and shooting 57 percent in his last five games.
"We really believe Osby is one of the best players in the league," said beaten Texas coach Rick Barnes, whose team couldn't do much to stop Osby when Jon Holmes suffered a broken bone in his hand. "He can score in a lot of different ways."
Osby has a mix of shots, including a newly developed 3-pointer, but really it's M'Baye's versatility that has helped improve crowds and create a buzz.
He was six of nine Monday for 15 points, including three alley-oop dunks, finished off by some serious posing after.
But c'mon, it's about time the Sooners celebrated something, right?
"Lobs are a huge part on the guard," M'Baye said. "I was just finishing it."
Yeah, we noticed. So did the crowd of more than 7,000, including a rare sighting — a full student section.
But then again that's what happens when you feature a dunk and a rising star.
Oh, and the wins help, too.
"It was a testament to my teammates," Osby said. "The 29 points came from them. Things were clicking for me tonight. We finally got these guys (Texas). To get a chance to beat them is really good."