Sooners battle Bears in Big 12 Tournament
Kansas City, MO (SportsNetwork.com) - After enjoying a first-round bye, the second-seeded Oklahoma Sooners will tip off their Big 12 Conference Tournament experience on Thursday night when they tangle with the seventh-seeded Baylor Bears at the Sprint Center.
A berth in the semifinals and a right to play either Texas or West Virginia is on the line in the contest.
Baylor opened up tournament play on Wednesday night by taking care of business against last-place TCU with a 76-68 triumph. The Bears, who are 22-10 overall after winning eight of their last nine, appear in good shape for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament regardless of how the rest of this event plays out.
Oklahoma (23-8) made claim to the No. 2 seed by finishing 12-6 in league action as it catapulted up the standings by closing out the regular season with wins in three straight and five of six. The team is in the midst of its best season since finishing the 2008-09 campaign 30-6. Lon Kruger was named the Big 12 Coach of the Year, and the Sooners' No. 17 ranking is their highest since November of 2009.
The Sooners swept the Bears during the regular season, winning in Waco by two in January and in Norman by 16 in February. Oklahoma has a firm 41-11 advantage over Baylor in the all-time series.
The Bears built up a 12-point halftime cushion against TCU in the first round, but while their advantage shrunk to just six late in the game, they avoided collapse and advanced by shooting a lofty 54.4 percent from the field and dominating on the glass with a 39-22 rebounding advantage. Cory Jefferson led the way with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Royce O'Neale also tallied a double- double with 14 points and 12 rebounds to go with five assists, while Isaiah Austin scored 18 and blocked five shots.
On the season, Baylor has been solid on both ends of the court this season, shooting greater than 45 percent from the field for 75.1 ppg while allowing just 68.0 ppg. Jefferson is a consistent catalyst in the frontcourt with 13.6 ppg and 8.2 rpg, and Austin joins him in the paint with 10.8 ppg and 101 blocks (3.2 pg). Kenny Chery (11.1 ppg, 5.0 apg) and Brady Heslip (11.3 ppg) both bring solid contributions to the backcourt.
Oklahoma's winning streak continued in the regular-season finale with an easy 97-67 triumph at last-place TCU, as it shot 50.7 percent from the field (including 14-of-30 from beyond the arc) and dominated on the glass (44-30). Buddy Hield knocked down five 3-pointers of his way to a game-high 24 points, Cameron Clark and Isaiah Cousins both netted 18 points and Ryan Spangler scored 10.
The Sooners fit right in to the high-scoring Big 12, as they shoot 45.1 percent from the field this season for 82.5 ppg (tied for first in the league with Iowa State), which has been strong enough to support a lackluster effort on the defensive end of the court (75.8 ppg). Hield nets a team-high 16.8 ppg and has drained 86 3-pointers at 40.2 percent efficiency. Clark (15.2 ppg), Cousins (11.0 ppg), Jordan Woodard (10.3 ppg) and Spangler (9.9 ppg, 9.4 rpg) round out a lineup that has started all 31 games together.