Woodward, Okla. —
By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
After a slow start, Oklahoma showed what its depth was truly capable of Sunday at Lloyd Noble Center. The Sooners’ 85-51 victory over Louisiana-Monroe was a matter of overwhelming an opponent on both ends of the floor.
“Coach always tells us not to hold anything back. We can get someone else in there for you, so play as hard as you can those minutes that you’re playing,” OU forward Romero Osby said. “That’s one thing we’ve been focused on that, and I think we have the depth to do that.”
On Sunday, the Sooners did. Their bench outscored the Warhawks, 37-14, and no one played more than 28 minutes. In fact, OU coach Lon Kruger used 11 players by the end of the first half.
“It will be a continuous experiment to see who’s playing well and who’s getting the job done,” Kruger said. “We have to keep improving defensively and taking care of the basketball, moving the ball and making good plays for each other.”
For about eight minutes, OU struggled with that. Louisiana-Monroe employed a 2-3 zone that had the Sooners flummoxed.
Then the Sooners settled in, going on 26-5 run over the next 10 minutes to grab a 36-16 lead.
It was the Sooners’ bench — Cameron Clark, Andrew Fitzgerald, Buddy Hield and Tyler Neal — that started the run. The starters finished it.
Steven Pledger led the way with 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting from 3-point range. The senior guard, who averaged 16.9 points a game last season, only 18 minutes due to foul trouble. However, he had no problem finding open shots.
“Steven is an excellent shooter. He’s always going to make shots, and it was good to see him get some down tonight,” Kruger said.
Amath M’Baye and Andrew Fitzgerald finished 12 points apiece. Freshman guard Je’lon Hornbeak tossed in 10.
Amos Olatayo led the Warhawks with 21 points. Louisiana-Monroe shot 34.5 percent (19-for-55) from the field and were just 3-for-16 from 3-point range.
The Sooners connected on 32 of 68 attempts (47.1 percent). That shooting percentage shot up thanks to six dunks. M’Baye had three of them in the heralded junior’s debut. He also added nine rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
In all, the season opener couldn’t have gone much better.
“I thought there were stretches of a lot of good things and certainly a lot of things we need to continue working on,” Kruger said. “I thought we took a lot better care of the ball today. We didn’t have as many turnovers and we rebounded the ball; those are two areas where we did much better than we performed in the two exhibition games. They continue to improve a little bit defensively in practice every day. We have a ways to go in all of these areas but the good thing about these guys is it is important to them. We have about a week of practice here now in preparation for Friday.”
The Sooners hit the road for the first time on Friday when they face Texas-Arlington at 7 p.m. in Arlington, Texas.