NORMAN — Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger gave his players four days off for Christmas break. Most went home to be with family. All, however, had the chance to get away from basketball and clear their minds.
No player needed that time away more than forward Amath M’Baye. OU’s last two games prior to the break — a 64-54 victory over Texas A&M and a 56-55 loss at home to Stephen F. Austin — have been the low point of his season. M’Baye scored just three points in those two games and took just five shots. He had four rebounds against Stephen F. Austin. The 6-foot-9 forward didn’t have a rebound against the Aggies.
“It’s been frustrating, but I had a couple days over the break to relax and think about the future. I didn’t spend much time thinking about how frustrating it was. I just think the about the future,” he said. “We still have a lot of games left to play.”
The Sooners (7-3) have a big one coming up at 7 tonight against Ohio (8-4) at Lloyd Noble Center. The Bobcats reached the Sweet 16 last season and return four of their five starters. It’s a potential victory the Sooners need to have on their postseason resume. More importantly, it’s a chance to get M’Baye’s motor running again.
M’Baye, who was the Big 12’s preseason newcomer of the year, has shown some serious talent this season. He scored 19 points and pulled down six rebounds in the Sooners’ victory over West Virginia in Orlando, Fla., on Nov. 25. Even in the loss at Arkansas on Dec. 4, M’Baye had an explosive second half.
OU coach Lon Kruger isn’t hitting the panic button.
“We just have to keep encouraging him. I think we have to restore his confidence and keep him aggressive,” he said. “… I think it will take making some shots to get that confidence going. It’ll happen. I hope it happens sooner rather than later for us.
“He works so hard at it and his attitude is so good about it that we just have to keep encouraging him to stay aggressive.”
M’Baye may still be experiencing the growing pains players experience after transferring. He spent last season as a scout-team player. This year, he’s trying to adapt to a system. Freshmen guards Je’lon Hornbeak, Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins are going through the same process. There’s a lot of moving parts that have to blend.
“In Orlando, I thought I was back. There’s been a couple changes in the offense and that’s been enough to change it. We’re a young team and we’re going to change a lot of stuff,” M’Baye said. “I can’t just settle with not being able execute every time we change something. I have to execute better.”
Transitions, however, are rarely seamless.
Senior forward Romero Osby sat out the 2010-11 season after transferring in from Mississippi State. He admitted it was well into January of last season before he felt completely comfortable on the floor.
“It’s different when you first come back. It took me 15 or 16 games last year to get into any type of scoring groove,” Osby said. “He’ll come out of it soon, and, hopefully, sooner rather than later so we can start winning some games by a larger margin.”
There were signs in Wednesday’s practice of M’Baye settling back into the flow — a couple nice drives to the basket mixed with aggressive rebounds on both ends of the court.
When M’Baye plays that way, the Sooners are a different team. They’re long and athletic with the potential to dominate on both ends.
M’Baye knows it and he’s not making any excuses.
“It’s been 10 games. We’re into the season. I should be back in my rhythm,” he said. “I can’t blame it on being rusty anymore.”
John ShinnFollow me @email@example.com