NORMAN, Okla. – With Kansas locked into first place, the teams in the middle of the pack in the Big 12 Conference standings are jumbled and jockeying for position as the regular season winds down.
In the basketball version of the Red River Rivalry, Oklahoma enhanced its resume and in the process became part of a four-way tie for second place. Yep, it's jumbled.
The Sooners pulled even with No. 24 Texas in the standings and completed a season sweep with a 77-65 victory over the Longhorns Saturday afternoon. Both teams are 21-8 overall with 10-6 league records; OU (No. 25 in the coaches' poll) has the head-to-head tiebreaker edge in terms of seeding for the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship.
“We know any time we line up that it’s going to be a tough battle and we have to play well,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “If we don’t then we lose. Pretty much any team in the Big 12 can say that because they are playing against really good teams all the time.
With the calendar flipping to March Madness, one term that figures to be overused is “match ups.” The OU-UT game was a perfect example. The Longhorns had the height advantage that could dominate in the paint and around the basket; the Sooners countered with a perimeter group that is one of the best in the Big 12.
Sophomore Isaiah Cousins scored a career-high 24 points and fellow sophomore Buddy Hield had 17 points, eight rebounds and three steals. The victory also marked the first time in the 18-year history of the Big 12 Conference that OU has swept both Texas and Oklahoma State (4-0) in the same season.
Texas center Cameron Ridley had 19 points and 14 rebounds and helped get the Sooners’ post players in foul trouble. With 16:50 to play, all three of OU’s big men had three fouls. It didn’t matter.
But Oklahoma’s edge was greater. The Sooners’ bigger guards shut down Javan Felix, UT’s leading scorer who had set a career-high with seven 3-pointers Wednesday night. Felix managed just two points on five shots. OU also out-shot the visitors from 3-point range, tallying a 21-point edge from behind the arc.
“He can really go on spurts so we kept switching on him and I think we did a very good job on him,” said Hield, who made four of his seven 3-point attempts.
“The guys have made a ton of progress defensively,” Kruger said. “Isaiah kind of took responsibility on the perimeter to toughen us up and play with greater purpose and greater significance and the other guys fed off of that.”
The Sooners missed six of their first seven shots but then the 3-pointers started finding the nylon. Top sixth man Tyler Neal converted a four-point play – a three and a free (throw) – with 9:20 remaining to give OU a 21-12 lead.
Neal was fouled by Ridley, who tried to get to the perimeter after stopping a drive to the basket. That play was one example of how Oklahoma was able to take advantage of its perimeter edge.
"The 3-ball didn't beat us," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "What beat us was they got extra possessions. . When you have a team that can shoot threes like they do, you can't give them all the other things we were giving them."
Those extra possessions came thanks to 16 UT turnovers. The Sooners turned those gifts into 23 points. That combined with the edge at the 3-point line meant that Oklahoma had control for almost the entire game.
“That’s one thing we need to fix as a team – keeping control of the ball,” said Ridley, who had his eighth double double of the season.
Texas failed to cash in when it could have gained confidence and seized momentum.
Inside the final three minutes of the first half, UT trailed 29-25. When Connor Lammert missed a 3-pointer, Ridley attempted to throw down a follow dunk but it clanged off the iron. Texas grabbed the rebound but then turned it over.
On the next possession, Ridley missed two free throws which was followed by Demarcus Holland going one-of-two from the line after he was denied a breakaway dunk after a steal.
That’s six points left on the table. And when Cousins drilled a 3-pointer on the Sooners’ final possession the home team went to the break with a 32-25 edge.
Texas has lost four straight Big 12 road games. After a home game with TCU Wednesday the Longhorns close the regular season at Texas Tech on March 8.
“I do know that some of our guys are not playing with the necessary toughness on the road, Barnes said.