Oklahoma basketball: Overcoming adversity is problem Sooners’ must get past

Jan 24, 2023; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners bench reacts during the second half against the TCU Horned Frogs at Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 24, 2023; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners bench reacts during the second half against the TCU Horned Frogs at Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oklahoma basketball men began the Big 12 portion of the 2022-23 schedule struggling to finish off close games. Now, nine games into the conference slate, their problem has shifted to the opposite end of the game and a troubling pattern of getting off to slow, sluggish starts.

Case in point: On Wednesday night at home and in front of a near-record crowd of over 13,000 at Lloyd Noble Center, the Sooners fell behind 14-4 in the first five minutes and never recovered in a 71-61 loss to in-state rival Oklahoma State. Midway through the second half the deficit had grown to 22 points before OU put together a mini run late to draw within 10 at the end.

The same kind of start plagued the Sooners the week before in a road contest at TCU. Oklahoma took even a bigger punch in the mouth to start the game against the Horned Frogs. Six minutes into the game, the Sooners found themselves down 16-3. No one knew it at the time, but that proved to be a knockout punch, seemingly sucking all the air and the confidence out of the OU team the rest of the way.

Three of the Sooners’ first four Big 12 games this season were a one-point home loss to Texas, a three-point home loss to Iowa State and a four-point road loss at Kansas in a game OU led by 10 with five minutes to play. The Sooners held leads in all three games but just couldn’t make the plays they needed to in the final five minutes to avoid falling short at the end.

While the final five minutes were Oklahoma’s downfall at the beginning of the Big 12 schedule, now it’s the opening five minutes that are deciding OU’s fate against conference opponents.

In their last six games, the Sooner men have been outscored 45-25 in the first four minutes of the game. And it’s not just the first four minutes after the opening tip. When you combine the opening four minutes of the last six Oklahoma games with the first four minutes of the second half — what many coaches call the second most important four minutes in the game — the difference in scoring production is 96-56.

The common thread in all of this appears to be the Sooners inability to handle adversity or setbacks in the course of the game. When opponents make a scoring run on the Sooners, either at the beginning of the game or at the end, the OU players have a tendency to get out of rhythm and not respond well to the pressure. When the shots aren’t falling for the Sooners at the offensive end, their downfall has been they are allowing it to creep into and negatively impact other parts of their game.

"“I’ve been disappointed when things don’t go well how we’ve responded,” Porter Moser said to reporters on Friday. “We’ve got to be better than that.“If a couple of us aren’t getting shots early or something like that…It’s a long game, Man,” the Sooner head coach said. “We’ve got to defend. You’ve got to play possession by possession. We can’t get down and then say down.”"

We’ve seen what can happen when all is going right for Oklahoma and the players on the floor are playing together and for each other. When things are going well, the Sooners have it in them to beat a very good team like Alabama and do so handily. But this OU team is not talented enough to count on that kind of performance every night out.

When they take that opening or late punch in the mouth, they’ve got to jump right back up and keep fighting. When one part of Oklahoma’s game is down, they are going to need to dig a little deeper and step it up in other areas.

West Virginia is known for speeding up the game and forcing their opponents out of their comfort zone with aggressive defensive pressure. That’s more adversity coming Oklahoma’s way on Saturday night in Morgantown.