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January 14, 2013

BIG 12 MEN'S BB: Sooners headed in right direction

NORMAN — It’s been years since an Oklahoma basketball team truly progressed throughout a season. Since Blake Griffin left following the 2009 season, the three teams that followed were worn down to a nub by the rigors of Big 12 Conference.

What happens in February and March will ultimately decide if that string is over. But the Sooners’ 77-68 victory over Oklahoma State Saturday at Lloyd Noble Center was a display of how far they’ve progressed this season.

Winning wasn’t shocking, but OU holding off its Bedlam rival was.

The offensive execution was exactly what Sooner coach Lon Kruger was looking for: lots of layups and wide open 3-pointers that came within the design of the offense.

“We’re shooting the ball a lot better,” Kruger said.

Statistically, it could have been better. OU only shot 43.1 percent for the game. But going 8-for-13 from 3-point range and 19-for-21 from the free-throw line was impressive.

The offensive improvement didn’t start on Saturday. The victory was more than OU’s fourth straight, it was the third time in the last four games the Sooners (11-3, 2-0 Big 12) have scored at least 70 points.

Games like Saturday’s have been rare for a team that got off to a hot start by winning defensive struggles.

But several things have started to click in the last two weeks. One is typical for college basketball teams. The holiday break allows gives teams about three weeks without school and that time is heavily spent in the practice gym.

The Sooners have gotten crisper on the offensive end in their last four games because of the extra work.

Forward Amath M’Baye is the prime example. He scored 15 points Saturday on 5-for-9 shooting and none of the shots looked forced. In mid December, the junior seemed to be lost on the floor.

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