NORMAN — Pinpointing Oklahoma’s troubles in Tuesday night’s 66-52 home loss to Kansas was fairly easy.
The Sooners need to shoot the basketball better. It can’t afford to shoot 30.6% from the field and beat anyone, let alone a Big 12 powerhouse like the Jayhawks.
The solution needs to be discovered quickly before things start to spiral out of control.
“We have to put this one behind us, as hard as that might be, with the way we shot the ball tonight. We have to stay in the gym and keep trusting,” OU senior Kristian Doolittle said.
The atmosphere was electric in the moments before the contest when Top Daug was introduced after a 16-year absence to the Lloyd Noble Center crowd of 10,486.
The teams traded baskets early and consecutive 3-pointers from Doolittle and Brady Manek gave the Sooners a 20-16 lead and forced KU coach Bill Self to call timeout.
It appeared to be a wakeup call for the nation’s sixth-ranked team looking to break a two-game losing streak in Norman and avoid dropping back-to-back Big 12 games since the 2012-13 season.
Isaiah Moss scored 20 points while starting in place of injured Devon Dotson, and Udoka Azubuike ended with 16 points and 14 rebounds to anchor the Jayhawks’ victory.
“Disappointed with the result,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “I thought it was a pretty good battle for a while. Their bigs are good and they did what they needed to do to win the ball game.
“We have to shoot it better to have a chance in a night like this.”
Oklahoma’s big three –Doolittle, Austin Reaves and Brady Manek – needed to be at top form to boost any upset hopes against No. 6 Kansas.
When Doolittle missed three consecutive shots on the Sooners’ first three possessions, it was an ominous sign.
The senior forward was asked how hard it was to overcome the tough start. His simple answer?
“It was difficult,” said Doolittle, who ended 5-of-18 shooting.
Doolittle, Reaves and Manek combined for 10-for-43 shooting from the field and all were held below their scoring averages. Doolittle ended with 13 points, Manek had 10 and Reaves finished with four points.
“Coming into the game, we knew we had to guard,” Moss said. “They have those three guys who can really score the ball.”
Added KU coach Bill Self: “I thought we did a good job on those three primarily and that was probably the biggest thing for us. Guarding OU is different because their big guys are their isolation guys. In the (Saturday) game with Baylor, their guards were their isolation guys.”
The crowd was at a fever pitch in the moments before the game. There had been a week-long buildup to the unveiling of Top Daug. The defeat spoiled the reemergence of the Oklahoma mascot, which hadn’t paraded the baseline since 2004.
Kansas (13-3 overall, 2-2 in Big 12) used a second-half charge to pull away from the Sooners.
Despite Oklahoma’s shooting woes, the team stayed within arm’s length of the Jayhawks.
“I thought our defense was fine. You gotta make shots at the other end and I think we stopped them the best we could and probably could've done a little bit better,” Manek said. “But I think our defense was where it needed to be tonight. I just don't think our offense was.”
Doolittle hit a 3-pointer with 7:56 remaining to cut the Kansas lead to 49-45.
The Jayhawks used a 7-0 run to build a 56-45 lead with 4:40 remaining and took the energy out of the arena. Kansas’ biggest lead was 64-47 with 1:28 to go.
The Sooners (11-5, 2-2) shot poorly in the first half, but only trailed 28-27 at intermission thanks to a solid defensive effort.
Doolittle struggled in the first half and made just 3-of-11 shots in the first half.
De’Vion Harmon was an offensive bright spot for the Sooners. The freshman guard finished with 13 points, his highest effort since totaling 14 in a Dec. 14 loss at Wichita State.
Kansas took advantage of Doolittle’s foul trouble in the second half. The Sooners’ leading scorer picked up two fouls in a one-second time span to give him three fouls and send him to the bench.
The Jayhawks quickly built a 42-36 lead with 14:19 remaining, which forced Kruger to call timeout and Doolittle to return to the lineup.
The Sooners return to action with a Saturday contest against TCU. Game time is 1 p.m. at Lloyd Noble Center.