A win is a win. That’s what the Oklahoma Sooners have to be telling themselves after an ugly 68-61 victory over the UTEP Miners on Thanksgiving day in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic. Romero Osby scored 16 points on 6-10 shooting to lead the Sooners, while also pulling in 10 boards and recording four assists in the victory. He also threw in two blocks, making him the easy choice for Sooner Player of the Game.
A balanced attack helped the Sooners cruise through the first half. The Sooners jumped out to an early 15-0 lead, and lead by as many as 16 before settling for just a 12 point advantage at the half. Nine different Oklahoma players had scored by the break.
Amath M’Baye (22) soars for a rebound in the Sooners 68-61 win over UTEP (Photo from Soonersports.com)
Oklahoma remained hot to start the second, extending their lead to 20 within the first six minutes of the half. However, the Sooners cooled off dramatically after obtaining that lead. The Sooner offense looked sloppy, and had no answer for UTEP’s “pressure the shooter” style of defense. Anchored by their defense, the Miners went on an 8-0 run between the 4:56 and 1:44 marks to cut the deficit to just four.
Then the veteran once again came up much in the clutch. Steven Pledger gave reason to believe he has ice in his veins as he stepped up and nailed a clutch three to seal the win. After that momentum shift, it became a game of making free throws and the Sooners were able to salvage the win. Pledger was the only Sooner besides Osby to score in double figures with 12. He was 3-6 from beyond the arc, including his game-saving three.
Defense was key to the Sooner victory. Oklahoma forced 17 Miner miscues and swiped eight steals as a team. They also outrebounded UTEP to the tune of 38-32.
Oklahoma shot 54.8% in the first half compared to just 27.6% in the second. In a lot of ways, tonight was similar to the Sooners game against Texas-Arlington this year. In both games, Oklahoma came out firing on all cylinders but promptly cooled off in the second. The struggle to close out games perhaps is related to the fact that the Sooners are giving significant minutes to three freshmen, new to the scene, style and pace of the game. With time, hopefully this issue will fade.
With the win Oklahoma will advance to face the winner of Clemson and Gonzaga tomorrow at 6:30 CST in the semifinals.
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