In the absence of Brady Manek, Oklahoma’s second-leading scorer, the Sooners might have found a formula that could work moving forward — a smaller lineup that emphasizes defense first.
It didn’t work enough to pull out a win Saturday against then-No. 6 Kansas, but it might help Oklahoma moving forward, beginning Tuesday when the Sooners host TCU.
“Defensively we played better for 40 minutes than we have all year,” Sooners coach Lon Kruger said.
Tuesday’s game is the first for the Sooners (6-4, 2-3 Big 12) against an opponent not ranked in the top 15 — at the time of the game — since Dec. 19.
Oklahoma has dropped two consecutive games and three of its past four.
The Horned Frogs (9-4, 2-3) have also dropped back-to-back games. The Tuesday matchup game is their only contest against an unranked opponent during an eight-game stretch.
TCU led No. 2 Baylor at halftime on Saturday before losing 67-49.
“The pace we’re playing with on offense the last two … games is just not going to get it done against really good defensive teams,” Horned Frogs coach Jamie Dixon said. “We don’t cut hard enough, we haven’t. We’ve got to do a better job of that. That’s the disappointing thing.”
For the second consecutive game, the Sooners will be without Manek and Jalen Hill due to COVID-19 protocols.
The absences leave Oklahoma with only two big men in its rotation — starter Kur Kuath and backup Victor Iwuakor. In the Sooners’ 63-59 loss to Kansas, both battled foul trouble.
Kruger will once again open with a small four-guard lineup, with the 6-foot-3 Elijah Harkless starting in place of Manek, a 6-9 forward who can stretch defenses.
“Not a whole lot of options,” Kruger said. “Our main concern was foul trouble with Kur and Vic, and obviously we had that even playing one of them at a time, so to put them both in there at a time, it just didn’t make much sense.”
Oklahoma found out about Manek’s and Hill’s absences the day before the Kansas game, limiting how much the team could adjust. Now, the Sooners have had some time to figure things out a bit. Kruger said he expects that will especially benefit Harkless, who wasn’t ruled eligible until mid-December.
The Sooners beat the Horned Frogs 82-78 on Dec. 6 behind 32 points and nine assists from Austin Reaves, Oklahoma’s leading scorer whose offensive importance is magnified with Manek sidelined.
Mike Miles topped TCU with 21 points in the loss to Oklahoma. RJ Nembhard added 18 points for the Horned Frogs, essentially matching his team-leading average of 17.8 points per game.
–Field Level Media