Oklahoma needs guards to be more consistent
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Monday, February 04, 2013
2/04/13 at 8:03 AM
AMES, Iowa - During Saturday's second half, with his team desperate for a spark, Oklahoma guard Steven Pledger sat on the bench.
The Sooners could have used Pledger's shot-making during their 52-50 loss to Kansas State. They could have used the 14-point half/20-point game Pledger gave them in a 74-71 victory at Baylor the previous Wednesday.
But there was a problem.
"He had trouble getting shots, getting separation from his man," OU coach Lon Kruger explained. "And then defensively, he had trouble staying close to his man a couple times."
It's not that Kruger has given up on Pledger, despite benching him for Saturday's final eight minutes.
"Steve will bounce back," Kruger said. "It's just a matter of lining up and focusing a little bit better and competing a little harder all the time."
It is a message all of OU's guards need to process as they prepare for Monday's 6 p.m. game at Iowa State, and for the rest of a potential NCAA Tournament season.
Sam Grooms is another prime example.
The senior point guard gave the Sooners some offense in Saturday's second half. He scored five of his seven points in the final 54 seconds to pull OU into a 50-50 tie, before Kansas State's Angel Rodriguez made two free throws to win it.
Kruger might have liked to go to Grooms in the first half, when the Sooners went the final 6:27 without a single point and fell behind 28-23. But Grooms stayed on the bench, much as he did at Baylor.
"We've just got to get better results, especially on the defensive end," Kruger said when asked about Grooms between the Baylor and K-State games. "We can't have possessions where we go down and don't really work at guarding people. Sam will bounce back."
As with Pledger, Kruger needs his senior guard to bounce back and stay back. The Sooners are better in their coach's second season. They are 14-6 overall and 5-3 in the Big 12 Conference, with reasonable hopes to make the postseason for the first time in four years.
But they haven't progressed to the point that they can afford such uneven effort out of their key players. That goes particularly at guard, where Kruger needs Pledger and Grooms to stabilize a position that also includes three inconsistent rookies.
OU doesn't hold on at Baylor without two huge shots by freshman Buddy Hield down the stretch. Saturday, though, Hield shot 1-for-7 and turned K-State guard Will Spradling loose for an uncontested tip-in during a key second-half run.
With the rest of his team struggling, OU freshman Isaiah Cousins provided a lift Saturday with a pair of 3-pointers. Before that, however, he had made just one 3 over the months of December and January.
Freshman point guard Je'lon Hornbeak is also missing shots. He's 1-for-10 over his last four games, with three turnovers in each of those games as well.
When Kruger says his team remains a work in progress, as he did coming out of the K-State loss, that goes particularly for his backcourt. The sooner OU's guards get where they need to be, the better their team can feel about finishing the season strong and ending their NCAA drought.
Oklahoma at Iowa State
Oklahoma (14-6, 5-3 Big 12)
Iowa State (15-6, 5-3)
*assists per game
OU up next
At Iowa State
6 p.m. Monday
Radio: KTBZ am1430
Original Print Headline: OU needs guards to step up
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355