NORMAN — It wasn’t the missed shots that had Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger irked after Tuesday’s 81-78 loss at Arkansas. He’ll take a 55.4-percent shooting night anytime, anywhere, against anybody.
It was OU’s defensive effort that elevated his blood pressure.
“We had stretches of decent play, but we didn’t sustain anything defensively,” Kruger said. “We’d go along and have a pretty good possession and then we’d give up a second shot or layup or break down late. We have to be grittier, tougher, more physical. Easier said than done, because it’s not our nature personality wise. We have to work on that.”
Defense is where OU (6-2) has made its biggest leap since last season ended. It held its first seven opponents — including No. 10 Gonzaga — to less than 50 percent shooting. Only Oral Roberts, which the Sooners beat 63-62 on Nov. 28, shot over 50 percent in a half.
Arkansas didn’t have a problem getting the ball in the basket, shooting 52.6 percent from the field and 9 for 22 from 3-point range.
Some of the defense issues could be traced to facing a hot player. Arkansas forward Marshawn Powell scored a career-high 33 points with 12 of it coming on 4-for-6 shooting from beyond the 3-point line.
Powell only made three treys in the Razorbacks’ first six games.
The rest of it lacked an acceptable excuse.
The Sooners employed their usual 10-man rotation. Only guard Steven Pledger played over 30 minutes. They still had plenty of energy to rally to take the lead with 20 seconds remaining.
The permanent memory from Tuesday’s game will be Arkansas guard B.J. Young’s off-balance floater that went in with 14 seconds to give the Razorbacks the lead for good.
That was a tough, contested shot.
OU’s issue was the other 34 points it allowed in the paint and the 14 points it gave up off offensive rebounds.
“We had a lot of possessions where the first 30 seconds on the shot clock was really good defense. In that last five seconds, we’d give up that offensive rebound or break down and someone got a wide-open layup because we didn’t talk or don’t help,” OU forward Romero Osby said. “Those are the kinds of things that frustrate as a player or a coach. You work so hard for 30 seconds to play really good defense and you have a breakdown in the last five seconds. I think that was the whole tale of the game.”
The sting from the loss will stick around for a while. The Sooners don’t play again until they face Texas A&M on Dec. 15 in All-College Classic at Chesapeake Arena in Oklahoma City.
A lot of time will be spent on the defensive end. It was the difference between winning a big game and losing one Tuesday.
“We need to be more aggressive, more committed, more physical,” Kruger said. “We have a few days to work on all that.”
John ShinnFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org