Sooner freshmen build experience with early travel
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Thursday, November 22, 2012
11/22/12 at 6:53 AM
NORMAN - The Oklahoma basketball team isn't home for Thanksgiving. The Sooners aren't home much, period, these days.
It doesn't seem to bother them, though.
"I think the best thing for us right now is to play away," guard Sam Grooms, "because I feel like these guys can play at home. They're gonna be fine here."
"These guys" are freshman guards Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield and Je'lon Hornbeak. How they play will have an enormous impact on their team's future, particularly after the year turns.
Particularly on the road.
"Later in the season in Big 12 play, we're gonna have to go to Kansas. We're gonna have to go to Kansas State," Grooms said. "The atmosphere we saw at UTA isn't the same as Allen Fieldhouse, but we got to see enough to understand it's not gonna be as easy as it is at home."
Grooms is talking about OU's 63-59 survival of Texas-Arlington last Friday night. The Sooners led by 17 points early in the second half, but saw their lead disappear in a haze of carelessness. Senior guards Grooms and Steven Pledger were not immune. They turned it over a combined four times.
Still, UTA's pressure bothered OU's freshmen most of all. Hornbeak, Cousins and Hield combined for seven turnovers and one assist.
They are sure to see more of the same this week in Orlando, site of the Old Spice Classic and tonight's 6 p.m. first-round game against UTEP. They'll get another dose Friday, and a third Sunday as the tournament continues.
There won't be 6,421 UTA fans cranked up to both christen a new arena and shock a BCS opponent.
"But still, it's not your home court," OU coach Lon Kruger said. "So you have to go down and generate some enthusiasm and energy."
It should be interesting to see if the three freshmen can do that.
Hield was terrific in the first half in Arlington, with 17 points. But he didn't scratch in the second half, when UTA rallied and the crowd became a factor. Hornbeak (one field goal, four turnovers) and Cousins (no points, three fouls) never really got started.
The Sooners chalked it up to a valuable learning experience, especially since they escaped with a victory. They were also encouraged by what they saw from their freshmen at ensuing practices.
"After they went through that, they came back in the gym and they wanted to work on it," Grooms said. "They wanted to get better."
"We did some drills where we put some pressure on them and made them handle some tight situations," forward Romero Osby said. "They got better at it. They're only going to get better from here."
Hield's scoring at UTA shows he is already pretty good. Hornbeak and Cousins proved their worth and potential by starting OU's first two games.
Now it's a matter of adjusting to college ball, with faster opponents and louder crowds that don't always work in your favor. And that makes life on the road very valuable.
"This will be a great three games for us," Kruger said of the Orlando trip. "We'll learn a lot regardless of how the games go, and make progress. We want to go down there like all eight teams and win all three. But still, most importantly we'll learn."
|Ht. ||Pt.|| Reb.|
|F ||M’Baye ||6-9 ||9.5 ||9.0|
|F|| Osby ||6-8 ||9.5 ||8.5|
|G ||Cousins ||6-3|| 1.0 ||2.5*|
|G ||Pledger ||6-4 ||12.0|| 2.0|
|G ||Hornbeak ||6-3|| 8.5 ||3.5|
|Ht. ||Pt.|| Reb.|
|F ||Ragland ||6-6 ||9.0 ||1.5|
|F ||Washburn ||6-7|| 11.0|| 2.5|
|F ||Lang|| 6-9 ||2.0 ||4.0|
|C ||Bahonnon ||6-10 ||8.5 ||2.5|
|G ||Streeter|| 6-0 ||8.5|| 4.5*|
*assists per game
Oklahoma vs. UTEP
6 p.m. Thursday
HP Field House, Orlando, Fla.
Radio: KTBZ am1430
Original Print Headline: OU makes most of early travel
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355