'We have to correct it': OU basketball slumps into Big 12 Tournament after loss to Texas
NORMAN — De’Vion Harmon streaked upcourt and slammed home the wide-open dunk, sending the crowd at Lloyd Noble Center — as limited as it is this season — into a frenzy.
OU had just come back from what was a 13-point deficit and taken the lead with just less than eight minutes remaining against No. 15 Texas on Thursday night.
But the boisterousness was short-lived.
Soon after, the Longhorns’ Courtney Ramey sank back-to-back 3-pointers and Texas was back in front for good, and sending the Sooners to their fourth consecutive loss, this one a 69-65 setback.
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The Sooners had their chances the rest of the way despite missing six of their next seven shots after Harmon’s dunk.
But the result was the same — another loss and yet another slide down the Big 12 standings.
Here are three other quick takeaways from the loss, starting with the Sooners’ Big 12 Tournament fate:
Kuath sits, then changes complexion of the game
For much of the game’s first 30 minutes, OU’s 6-foot-10 senior Kur Kuath sat in the second row of chairs that is the bench area this season, alternating a pad between his left and right legs.
He watched as the Sooners got dominated inside by the Longhorns on both ends of the floor, their recent rebounding woes keeping up in full force, and as Texas’ 6-foot-10 Jericho Sims mostly did what he wanted to offensively.
When Kuath finally checked in for the first time — with 12:23 remaining in the second half — the Sooners had already started making their push, but Kuath pushed it into overdrive.
He blocked a dunk try by Kai Jones on his first defensive possession, setting up Austin Reaves’ shot to cut Texas’ lead to 3.
A couple minutes later, after Elijah Harkless’ airball, Kuath maneuvered his way around a Texas defender that was waiting for the ball to hit out of bounds. Kuath jumped in the air and knocked the ball off the defender and out of bounds. The play gave the Sooners another possession. He added another block later. He also finished with three rebounds, and played the rest of the way except for the final six seconds.
"It was amazing," Alondes Williams said of the lift Kuath gave the Sooners. "It was a good feeling knowing that you've got a rim protector out there behind you.
"It felt real good to finally get some stops in the paint."
After the game, Sooners coach Lon Kruger said Kuath "changed the game around" and said Kuath was on the bench until that point for rotational reasons.
"We went with Victor (Iwuakor) first off the bench for Brady (Manek)," Kruger said. "With his energy, he's been doing a great job. Then Kur came off for Brady in the second half and did a terrific job. Those three guys have been — different guys at different times have played better and had more production. It was great to see it from Kur when he got back in there."
Iwuakor played just four first-half minutes, with an offensive rebound and two fouls.
While Manek and Kuath started alongside each other for much of the early part of the season, Kruger all but ruled out going back to that lineup.
"That would be awfully difficult to do that and get the activity that we've had on the perimeter," Kruger said. "Most teams in the league right now — Texas is the exception because they are so big everywhere with (Greg) Brown and (Andrew) Jones and Sims and all those guys — they are huge. They have a little bit more size there than most teams will play. Most play four guards around one and we have to be able to guard regardless of who is out there."
Kuath's late entrance wasn't the only change for the Sooners.
Williams played 29 minutes, his second-most of the season and as many as he'd played in the last three games combined.
Williams had 13 points of 5-of-11 shooting and had three rebounds, an assists, a block and a steal.
Say hello to Wednesday
Two weeks ago it would’ve been unimaginable that the Sooners would be playing in Wednesday’s first round of the Big 12 Tournament.
OU was flying high, all alone in second place after winning at Iowa State on Feb. 20.
But after Thursday’s loss, the Sooners’ Big 12 Tournament slot is set — they’ll play Iowa State, the No. 10 seed, at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City.
The Sooners were last a No. 7 seed in 2019, losing to No. 10 West Virginia in the opening round.
OU’s track record in the Big 12 Tournament isn’t a good once since Kruger took over.
The Sooners are 2-8 in the event since 2012, their only wins coming in the first round in 2015 and 2016.
OU has lost to lower-seeded teams four times during that span.
The Cyclones are winless in Big 12 play entering Saturday’s game at Kansas State but played OU tough twice — a 79-72 Sooners win in Norman on Feb. 6 and a 66-56 OU win over Feb. 20 in Ames where the Cyclones erased a big first-half advantage before the Sooners closed strong.
When the Sooners were riding high, moving up as high as No. 7 in the country before their recent slide, OU's defense set the tone.
But while the Sooners' defense forced 11 turnovers Thursday, it took OU awhile to get going on that end of the floor.
"We have to correct it, for sure," Kruger said. "I think it's to the point where we're not getting it for 40 minutes. We have to treat each possession like we did most of those in the second half. I thought the guys were terrific in the second half. We didn't play that way in the first. We have to figure out how to get that for 40 minutes. We have to keep working at it."
All of the losses have been close, with the Sooners losing their last four games by a combined 17 points.
"It's frustrating, but at the same time as a basketball player, you can't let things just get to you," Williams said. "You've just got to focus on the next day, what you've got in the future. We've just got to worry about the next team that we're playing and take it to them."