Oklahoma basketball: What does OU need to do to win Bedlam II?

Feb 27, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lon Kruger coaches his team against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during a time out in the second half at Lloyd Noble Center. Oklahoma State won 94-90. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lon Kruger coaches his team against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during a time out in the second half at Lloyd Noble Center. Oklahoma State won 94-90. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports /

On Monday night, Oklahoma basketball has a Bedlam rematch against an Oklahoma State team that defeated the Sooners on Saturday in Norman.

It may not be a must win for Oklahoma, but it’s a necessary win for a team that has suffered two straight losses after rising to No. 7 in the national rankings.

Entering this past week, the Sooners were in sole possession of second place in the Big 12 standings. Now they find themselves tied for fourth place with the team they are playing in Bedlam Part II on the road on Monday. They also have Texas coming up later this week.

Oklahoma and Texas are scheduled to play on Thursday in Norman. That game is a rescheduled contest from Feb. 18. The Sooners won the first game with their Red River rivals this season, defeating the Longhorns 80-79 in Austin.

Oklahoma Sooners Basketball
Oklahoma Sooners Basketball /

Oklahoma Sooners Basketball

A couple of Texas players and their head coach missed that game because of COVID-19 protocols, so you know the Longhorns are going to come to Norman this week determined to reverse that earlier loss and gain some ground in the standings as well.

But getting back to the immediate priority, how does Oklahoma go into Gallagher-Iba Arena, one of the most difficult places to play in the Big 12 and against a team with tons of confidence and arguably the best player in college basketball this season, and come out with a much-needed win?

The obvious answer is to not let Cade Cunningham beat you, like what happened in Norman on Saturday. The Cowboys’ super freshman had the game of his college career, doubling his scoring average and putting in 40 points. Twenty-five of those points came in the final 15 minutes of the game.

Containing Oklahoma State’s freshman superstar is Job #1

In his postgame press conference on Saturday, OU head coach Lon Kruger stated the obvious, saying that the Sooners must find a way to slow down Cunningham, whom he acknowledged is a terrific player and made some tough shots in the game on Saturday. But that’s what good players do, Kruger said, they’re capable of making those kind of shots.

Elijah Harkless, perhaps Oklahoma’s best defender, came off the bench on Saturday. The junior transfer guard had started the previous 11 games. When Harkless made his first appearance on Saturday, OU was trailing 21-17 and Oklahoma State had made eight of its first 12 shots.

After Harkless entered the game over eight minutes in, the Cowboys went 4 of 18 from the floor the remainder of the half and the Sooners went on an 11-0 run to close out the half up by seven, 38-31.

Harkless scored 10 points off the bench and also has five steals in helping force 20 turnovers by the Cowboys.

Harkless will probably get the main assignment against Cunningham on Monday, but it is a good bet that the double team will come when Cunningham touches the ball. The thing you have to watch out for when you double up on a player is it leaves someone else uncovered, and Cunningham is a premier facilitator in finding the open man.

While the Sooners must force Cunningham to take contested shots, they also must do their best to avoid fouling him. He is a high-percentage foul shooter and can kill you at the foul line, as he did on Saturday, hitting 13 of 14 free throws.

Cunningham isn’t the only Oklahoma State player that is capable of scoring, however. Avery Anderson III and Bryce Williams both had 15 points on Saturday. Sic-foot, 9-inch Kalib Boone had just six points on Saturday, but he scored 15 and 18 points in two of his last three games.

It isn’t certain if junior guard Isaac Likekele will be able to go on Monday from a hand injury, but if he can play, he averages close to 10 points and directs he Oklahoma State offense.

The bottom line is Oklahoma needs big offensive games from Austin Reaves and De’Vion Harmon, some dagger three-balls from sharpshooter Umoja Gibson, and this would be a perfect time for veteran Brady Manek to break out of his shooting slump.


One of the biggest reasons for Oklahoma’s earlier success this season in beating five ranked teams, including three consecutive victories over top-10 teams, was a tough defensive mindset coupled with discipline to avoid fouling and limiting their opponents’ free-throw attempts.

“You can put this one on me. I wasn’t good. I had too many forced shots that led to nothing, honestly.” — OU senior point guard Austin Reaves

The Oklahoma defense forced Oklahoma State into 20 turnovers on Saturday, leading to 19 OU points, but the Sooners themselves were more careless with the ball than their Big 12-leading season average, committing 15 turnovers that led to 22 points at the other end.

In addition, Oklahoma committed 18 personal fouls, the team’s third highest total of the season. That led to 26 Oklahoma State free throws and 23 points. So nearly half of the Cowboys’ 94 points came off of OU turnovers and free throws.

Perhaps the most egregious flaw in the Sooners’ game in Bedlam round one, however, was the way they were outhustled and outmuscled in pulling down rebounds at both ends of the court. The Cowboys outrebounded Oklahoma by a whopping 17 boards (45 to 28) and pulled down 13 offensive rebounds to seven by OU.

Offensive rebounds lead to second-chance scoring opportunities, and Oklahoma State turned those into 18 points. The Sooners absolutely can’t allow this disparity to occur on in the rematch on Monday night.

Austin Reaves won’t need any extra motivation

Overlooked by the monster 40-point performance by Cunningham in Oklahoma State’s giant road victory on Saturday, was the 22-point effort by OU’s Austin Reaves. In the postgame zoom press conference, the Sooners’ leading scorer’s demeanor was described by one local writer as not so much disappointed as disgusted.

“You can put this one on me,” Reaves said. “I had too many forced shots that led to nothing, honestly. That’s basically it. Go back and watch the film. That’s what it will show.”

What the Sooner point guard is really trying to say is, he can’t expect to draw a foul every time he drives to the basket. On several drives to the basket during the overtime session on Saturday, it appeared that Reaves might have been fouled, but the call never came.

But even if Reaves plays the game of his life on Monday, Oklahoma won’t win unless the Sooners rebound much better, improve their ball movement, win the battle for 50/50 balls and get a balanced scoring effort from the supporting cast.

That’s a lot to expect, but we’ve seen this Sooner team do all of this well for much of the season.

And it goes without saying, they cannot allow Cunningham to control the game and beat them at both ends of the court.

As for Oklahoma’s mind set going into the Monday night rematch, Reaves’ OU teammate De’Vion Harmon, had this to say after Saturday’s game:

"“We’re going to be good. We’ll be fine. We look forward to the opportunity with blood in our mouths and eyes wide open.”"