Oklahoma Sooners: Andrew Fitzgerald

Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. The NBA draft is on Thursday night but no Sooners are expected to be selected, which is no surprise. Lon Kruger’s squad returns the majority of its key contributors as C.J. Washington was the lone scholarship senior on the squad last season.

2. Bob Stoops weighed in on the upcoming four-team playoff on Wednesday. The Sooners football coach is happy the bowl system will remain in place and the regular season will continue to be important.
With the signing of D.J. Bennett (Ottumwa, Iowa/Indian Hills CC), Oklahoma added size to its roster to finalize Lon Kruger’s first recruiting class in Norman.

A 6-foot-8 shot blocking forward, Bennett averaged nine points and six rebounds as Indian Hills went 33-4 this season.

“He brings high energy, shot-blocking ability and rebounding skills,” Kruger said in a release. “He also has the potential to be more of a scorer in the low post than he has been."

Bennett could fill a role similar to departing senior C.J. Washington, who brought defense, energy and rebounding off the bench for last year’s Sooner squad. He gives Kruger another option in the post along with Romero Osby, Andrew Fitzgerald and Casey Arent.

A junior with two years of eligibility remaining, Bennett could also provide a scoring option in the post if he continues to improve his offensive post game. After scoring double figures only two times in his first 25 games of last season, he scored double figures in 10 of his final 12 outings.

"D.J.'s a fantastic athlete," Indian Hills coach Barrett Peery said in a release. "Activity is his best asset. He can really run, he can really get on the rim and can rebound and block shots with his activity, his length and his bounce.

“He brings high energy, shot-blocking ability and rebounding skills. He also has the potential to be more of a scorer in the low post than he has been."
Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger was pleased with his team’s effort during his first season, despite the Sooners' 15-16 record.

But Kruger has consistently said his team needs to have a better understanding of how hard they must compete to be successful.

[+] EnlargeSteven Pledger, Ray Turner
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswireOklahoma junior guard Steven Pledger average 16.2 points per game this season.
“We can do a better job of that as a staff,” Kruger said of promoting competitiveness. “There’s a fine line there, you want to promote confidence, you want to promote 'Keep working at it,' but we have to demand more physical play.”

Kruger believes forwards Romero Osby and Andrew Fitzgerald can be more physical along with leading scorer Steven Pledger.

“Steven can be more physical,” he said. “For all he did scoring-wise, he has to do a lot more rebounding-wise, defensively. He’s got a big body, use it more.”

With three-straight losing seasons, Kruger is fighting to keep negativity -- and a losing mindset -- out of the program.

“They have to raise the expectations they have for themselves,” Kruger said. “There’s no one in our program that knows the standard of winning Big 12 games, they’ve never done it. Ww have to keep working to establish that, establish expectations. We have to expect more.”

Oklahoma's struggles in close games is one of the defining aspects of this year’s squad.

“If you look at every game, there were stretches in every game were we played well enough,” Kruger said. “But there were too many stretches when we didn’t play well. We have to treat each possession with more importance.”
It will be a different feeling for Oklahoma. The Sooners enter Wednesday night’s game against Texas A&M knowing they defeated the Aggies in their last meeting. OU battles Texas A&M in the first round of the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Mo.

The Sooners haven’t faced an opponent they had already beaten since Jan. 28 against Kansas State.

OU takes on the Aggies after a 65-62 win over Texas A&M on March 3, in a game which the Sooners finally made the plays at the end to secure a victory. The season series is tied 1-1 with A&M taking a 81-75 victory over the Sooners on Jan. 21.

Key to OU win: Continued strong play from Cameron Clark. The sophomore has played increasingly better in the Sooners last four games and his athleticism and aggression. When Clark plays well he’s a terrific complement to Steven Pledger and Romero Osby.

Key to A&M win: Quality play by point guard Dash Harris. In the Aggies win over OU, Harris had 14 points six assists. In their loss, he finished with five points, four assists and four turnovers.

Stat line that will tell the tale: OU assists. If the Sooners assist numbers are high, that means Sam Grooms probably won the point guard battle with Harris. If he does, OU’s chances of advancing increase.

Sooners X factor: Andrew Fitzgerald. Romero Osby was a terror against the Aggies on Saturday, scoring a career-high 24 points, so expect Texas A&M to have a plan to slow Osby. That’s where Fitzgerald could step in with his terrific mid-range shooting when Osby attacks the basket.

Aggies X factor: David Loubeau. He’s averaging 15.5 points per game in two meetings with the Sooners and shooting 61 percent from the field. If the Aggies feed him the ball and he continues to score efficiently, it will make Texas A&M much more explosive on offense.

Preview: Oklahoma at Texas

February, 29, 2012

Oklahoma is looking to avenge its Valentine’s Day loss to Texas when the Sooners travel to face the Longhorns on Wednesday night at the Ervin Center in Austin, Texas.

In the first meeting the Sooners struggled to contain UT’s guards, Myck Kabongo and J'Covan Brown, who sparked the 69-58 Longhorns win.

Even though the Sooners will face Texas A&M in the first round of the Big 12 tournament regardless of the outcome in its next two games, OU is hoping to grab some momentum heading into postseason play.

Key to OU win: Containing Kabongo and Brown off the dribble. Both players are excellent at getting into the lane and creating opportunities for themselves and teammates. OU must play strong perimeter defense on Wednesday.

Key to UT win: Forcing anyone but Steven Pledger to beat them. When Pledger is playing well offensively, it sparks the entire OU squad so getting him out of rhythm can knock the Sooners out of rhythm.

Stat line that will tell the tale: UT free throw attempts. In the first meeting, UT made 24 of 29 free throws, while OU shot just eight free throws total, making five of those attempts.

Sooners X factor: Andrew Fitzgerald. As teams have begun to defend him differently, Fitzgerald has struggled to find ways to score in OU’s last four games. The last time he scored in double figures was Feb. 11. The Sooners are more dangerous when the junior forward is involved.

Longhorns X factor: Sheldon McClellan. One of the best sixth men in the conference, McClellan scored 13 points in the first meeting. He’s an efficient scorer who takes advantage of the penetration of Kabongo and Brown.

NORMAN, Okla. -- We’ve seen this before.

Oklahoma stumbled out of the locker room, having left its first-half intensity in the bowels of the Lloyd Noble Center as Oklahoma State charged back from a large halftime deficit.

Except this time the Sooners responded.

OU rebuffed an early second half run by OSU to secure a 77-64 win over the Cowboys on Wednesday night. The Sooners snapped their six-game losing streak with the win, their first since Jan. 28.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Fitzgerald
Mark D. Smith/US PresswireAndrew Fitzgerald had six points and six rebounds in OU's win over Oklahoma State.
“It feels good to finally get a win,” forward Romero Osby said. “I don’t really sleep well after losses. It felt good to get a win, we really needed one.”

OSU went on a 24-11 run to start the second half after OU took a 30-12 advantage into the locker room, mirroring the second half struggles that have doomed the Sooners to several losses including recent defeats to Texas, Iowa State and Texas Tech.

“I am really proud of our guys (for) responding the way they did to the Cowboys’ run,” said OU head coach Lon Kruger.

After the Cowboys cut OU’s lead to 42-39 with 13:05 left in the game, Osby turned up his intensity. The junior scored two baskets and grabbed two rebounds in a four-minute stretch which saw the Sooners go on a 9-0 run to take a 51-39 lead.

OSU never came within nine points for the remainder of the contest.

“We did a good job of getting right back in the ball game,” Kruger said. “With our run it popped (the lead) back out to nine or 12 there and we played to that margin the rest of the way.”

The Sooners smothering defense was the story of the first half.

(Read full post)

Preview: Oklahoma State at Oklahoma

February, 22, 2012
No matter what happens, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger believes his team has something to play for in its final four regular season games.

We will learn tonight if his team agrees.

The Sooners will carry a six-game losing streak into Wednesday’s Bedlam game against Oklahoma State (7 p.m. tipoff) at the Lloyd Noble Center. OU is 13-13 overall, 3-11 in the Big 12, while the Cowboys enter the game with a 13-14 record, 6-8 in the Big 12. OSU is 3-3 in its last six games including wins over Iowa State and Texas.

A strong effort from the Sooners will show if OU still believes it can salvage the season while a poor effort could mean it's ready to end this season as soon as possible.

Key to OU win: Keeping the Cowboys off the free throw line, particularly Keiton Page. OSU shot an eye-popping 56 free throws in Saturday’s win over Texas and Page was 20 of 20 from the line. The Sooners will have to limit OSU’s penetration and play sound defense to force the Pokes to score from the field.

Key to OSU win: Forcing OU to beat them from the outside. If Romero Osby and Andrew Fitzgerald provide inside scoring for the Sooners it will open up shots for Steven Pledger and give OU confidence to snap its losing streak.

Stat line that will tell the tale: Steals. The team that wins the steals battle could have an advantage in this game because they will likely be getting easier shots than the opponent. Points off turnovers could be the key to this game.

Sooners X factor: Cameron Clark. The sophomore is coming on in the final weeks of his second season in crimson and cream. He has scored 29 points on 14 of 23 shooting in OU’s last two games. He logged a team-high 74 combined minutes in the two games.

Cowboys X factor: Brian Williams. The redshirt freshman is a bit of a wildcard. Williams can put up 20-plus points or put up three points but he is a solid defender and tends to make an impact on the game even if he doesn’t score.
The Oklahoma men’s basketball team took a step backward on Saturday night.

The Sooners suffered a blowout 65-47 loss to Texas Tech in United Spirit Arena in Lubbock, Texas. OU struggled to find any kind of confidence or rhythm on either end of the floor as the Red Raiders went on a 14-3 run in the middle of the second half to earn their first Big 12 Conference victory.

OU committed 16 turnovers and shot 32.7 percent from the field (18 of 55) including 14.3 percent from the three-point line (2 of 14). The Red Raider did a terrific job protecting the ball with just seven turnovers after committing 21 turnovers in their 64-55 loss to the Sooners on Jan. 17.

Player of the Game: Andrew Fitzgerald. Things would have really gotten out of hand if it wasn’t for the junior forward. He was 7 of 16 shooting from the field to lead OU with 14 points.

Unsung Hero: Sam Grooms. Another solid outing for Grooms, who had nine points, eight assists and two turnovers. He was 4 of 10 from the field and had the lone 3-pointer among the Sooners starters.

Key Stat: 2. The Sooners, who average 6.7 steals per game, finished with just two steals on Saturday. OU had just four points off of turnovers after having 22 points off of turnovers in the first meeting.

Up next: Texas on Feb. 14. The Longhorns arrive at the Lloyd Noble Center on Valentine’s Day in the first meeting between the Red River Rivals this season.
Oklahoma forward Andrew Fitzgerald has been a core contributor for the Sooners this season. The Baltimore native is averaging 13.4 points and 5 rebounds per game and his inside scoring has been the key to allowing leading scorer Steven Pledger more space on the perimeter.

Fitzgerald spoke with SoonerNation about OU’s recent struggles, his shooting ability and his hometown's most famous TV show.

SoonerNation: When you’re in the midst of a losing streak, how do you stay into it?

Fitzgerald: With me I just stay humble, stay who I am. I can’t get myself down or try to force things in the next game. Just stay calm and keep working hard. We have to eliminate the little things and we’ll have a better opportunity to win games.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Fitzgerald
Matt A. Brown/Icon SMIBaltimore native Andrew Fitzgerald is averaging 13.4 points this season for the Sooners.
SoonerNation: What are those little things?

Fitzgerald: Watching film today, it’s that one little breakdown we will have. One guy messes up and they’ll get a easy shot, we have to eliminate that, not let teams get easy shots and to just stay positive. We have plenty of games left.

SoonerNation: Do you feel like your mental toughness is being tested?

Fitzgerald: Yes, this is a big mental test for us the next seven games and how we react to the next seven games.

SoonerNation: How did you develop your ability to score?

Fitzgerald: Coming here during the summer, shooting around and getting a nice rhythm in the mid-range and inside.

(Read full post)

Oklahoma refused to let Iowa State forward Royce White beat them. So his teammates did it themselves.

The Cyclones' sharp shooting sparked ISU’s 77-70 win over the Sooners at Lloyd Noble Center on Saturday night. ISU shot 15 of 30 (50 percent) from the three-point line including 10 of 18 in the first half.

ISU’s opponent-record shooting from beyond the arc overshadowed a career-high 27 points from Andrew Fitzgerald.

The Sooners handled ISU’s three-point explosion well, hanging in the game throughout and getting within a single possession with 1:15 left in the game but point guard Sam Grooms lost the ball, committing a crucial turnover with the Sooners down 73-70.

OU never scored again.

Player of the Game: Fitzgerald was 11 of 19 shooting from the field and 5 of 5 from the free throw line to score his 27 points. He added three rebounds, two assists, one blocked shot and one turnover.

Unsung Hero: Romero Osby. The junior was incredibly consistent with 17 points on 6 of 9 shooting from the field. He did a solid job battling White defensively but only grabbed four rebounds.

Key Stat: 7. White’s assist total showed the patience from ISU’s star forward as he accepted OU’s double teaming game plan and was content setting his teammates up for open shots. His first and only field goal came with 1:39 remaining in the game.

Quotable: “I just mishandled the ball. There’s no other way to explain it. I mishandled the ball, cost my team a play and a chance to get a shot off at the rim.” - OU point guard Sam Grooms on his late turnover

“It’s frustrating. It seems like they were just making everything today. Every time we’d go for the rebound and the ball was going through the net.” - Osby on ISU’s sharp shooting

“That’s who Royce is. He’s not the guy who goes in there and tries to force it up. He’d rather get an assist than a basket and tonight showed that.” - Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg

“They had a lot of open looks. We wanted to give some help on [Royce] White, of course, but not any more that would keep us from getting back to the shooters. If you go a little bit too far, you don’t have good recovery. We have to do all that better; we didn’t handle that as well as we needed to.” - Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger

Up Next: Host Missouri at Lloyd Noble Center on Feb. 6 at 6 p.m. CT

Preview: Iowa State at Oklahoma

February, 4, 2012
After a stretch of three of four games on the road, Oklahoma returns home on Saturday to host Iowa State on Saturday at 5 p.m. CT at the Lloyd Noble Center.

The Sooners will be looking to forget a blowout loss to Kansas on Feb. 1. against a Cyclone squad that has won four of five games including back-to-back wins over Kansas and Kansas State.

Key to OU win: Not allowing Royce White to beat them. The Cyclones forward is one of the most complete players in the league, averaging 14 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.

Key to ISU win: The Cyclones must keep OU’s scoring trio (Steven Pledger, Romero Osby, Andrew Fitzgerald) from dominating the game. Those three Sooners have accounted for 68 percent of OU’s points in Big 12 play.

Stat line that will tell the tale: ISU turnovers. The Cyclones average 12.8 turnovers per game and the Sooners play their best when they force opponents to turn the ball over allowing them to get into transition.

Sooners X factor: C.J. Washington. The Sooners will need someone to provide toughness and rebounding while dealing with White. Washington has been a key contributor off the bench and will be counted on against ISU.

Cyclones X factor: Tyrus McGee. The Stringtown, Okla. native is one of the Big 12’s top sixth men. He brings shooting and active defense off the bench while shooting 44.9 percent from the three-point line.

Preview: Oklahoma at No. 8 Kansas

February, 1, 2012
Coming off its best win of the season, Oklahoma travels to Kansas on Wednesday night. The Sooners suffered a 72-61 loss to the Jayhawks at the Lloyd Noble Center on Jan. 7 and are looking to split the regular season series with a road win.

The Sooners would love to get another 30-point effort from guard Steven Pledger but it will take solid defense and slowing down Thomas Robinson for OU to win in Lawrence, Kan.

Key to OU win: Containing Thomas Robinson. The KU forward is the only Big 12 player who is averaging a double double (17.5 points, 11.8 rebounds) this season. OU will need to force him into a poor shooting night and keep him off the boards or get him into foul trouble.

Key to KU win: Knocking the Sooners out of their offensive rhythm. If they are able to force Pledger away from his sweet spots and force other Sooners to carry the offensive load, they should be able to hold OU to a low shooting percentage.

Stat line that will tell the tale: Points in the paint. KU held a 48-12 advantage in that category in the Jan. 7 meeting. That cannot happen again if the Sooners hope to win.

Sooners X factor: Andrew Fitzgerald. The Jayhawks are going to go inside to Robinson so the Sooners need to return the favor with Fitzgerald and try to get KU’s monster forward in foul trouble.

Jayhawks X factor: Travis Releford. He was a huge reason why KU knocked of the Sooners in the first meeting with 28 points on 9 of 13 shooting.

Analysis: Baylor 77, Oklahoma 65

January, 24, 2012

There are no moral victories, but it is clear Lon Kruger’s team is getting better.

No. 7 Baylor pulled away in the final minutes of regulation to knock off Oklahoma, 77-65, at the Lloyd Noble Center on Tuesday night. The Bears, known for their athleticism, stopped their two-game losing streak with sharp shooting, finishing 27 of 50 on field goal attempts (54 percent), including 9 of 18 (50 percent) from the three-point line.

OU kept battling back from deficits throughout the second half but could never get over the hump. After the Sooners cut Baylor’s lead to 62-60 with 4:42 remaining, Baylor outscored OU 15-5 in the final minutes. The Sooners dropped to 12-7 overall and 2-5 in Big 12 play.

Player of the Game: Romero Osby was in beast mode against the Bears. The junior finished with 16 points, on 5 of 11 shooting, and 11 rebounds. He had five offensive rebounds and added two blocks and one steal in 38 minutes of action.

Unsung Hero: Sam Grooms. The junior point guard did a terrific job running the team against Baylor’s 1-3-1 zone defense, helping OU finish 27 of 58 (46.6%) from the field. Grooms had seven points and seven assists with zero turnovers in 35 minutes.

(Read full post)

This one will linger in the back of their minds for a while.

Oklahoma squandered a prime opportunity to earn its first Big 12 road victory with its 81-75 overtime loss to Texas A&M at Reed Arena in College Station, Texas, on Saturday. Key offensive rebounds by the Aggies helped Texas A&M knock off the Sooners, who lost despite shooting 49.2 percent from the field.

OU held a 62-60 lead when Aggie forward Ray Turner got an offensive rebound then tied the game. After Andrew Fitzgerald hit a jumper and free throw for a three-point play, Elston Turner buried a wide open three-pointer to tie the game at 65.

Steven Pledger missed a potential game-winning jumper from around the free throw line and the Sooners were outscored 16-10 in overtime to drop to 12-6 overall and 2-4 in Big 12 play. Turner scored seven of his career-high 23 points in overtime.

Player of the Game: Romero Osby. The junior forward stepped up his game on the road with a team-high 18 points on 8 of 10 shooting from the field. He also added five rebounds. Osby seemed to be the lone Sooner who could get his shot whenever he wanted to against A&M’s defense.

Unsung Hero: Andrew Fitzgerald. The junior forward hit some clutch shots in the final minutes of regulation to keep OU in it. He finished with 17 points on 8 of 14 shooting with seven rebounds. His quality shooting along the baseline helped keep OU in it throughout.

Key Stat: 52.5. The Aggies entered the game shooting 43.4 percent from the field yet shot 52.5 percent against the Sooners. Turner was the only Aggie who scored more than four points yet shot less than 50 percent. Dash Harris (5 of 9 shooting, 14 points) and David Loubeau (7 of 11 shooting, 16 points) were the other Aggies in double figures.

Up Next: Baylor on Tuesday night at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.

Triple Option: Blake Bell benefits 

January, 10, 2012
Three thoughts this morning:

1. Blake Bell would have had the chance to be the starting QB had Landry Jones left for the NFL. But Jones staying might actually be the best thing that could have happened for Bell. Drew Allen would have entered the spring with the edge to succeed Jones. Allen has been the more polished passer in practice and has a firmer grasp of the base offense. Bell closed the gap this season, but it would have been tough for him to beat out Allen, who has an extra year in the system. Now, Bell has an entire year to catch up to Allen, and will have the advantage of two years of eligibility remaining when Jones graduates against Allen’s one.

2. USC wideout Kyle Prater announced via Twitter that he is transferring. Could OU get in the mix? Remember, Prater, a former blue-chip prospect, signed with the Trojans over the Sooners. OU already has four incoming wideouts, but they continue to recruit the position.

3. Lon Kruger has the Sooners playing above their heads, but it could still end up being a long season. OU is 0-3 in the Big 12 after last night’s loss at Oklahoma State. OU just doesn’t have the offensive pop right now. Andrew Fitzgerald has a good mid-range jump shot, Steven Pledger can hit the 3, and Romero Osby has a good post arsenal. But after that, there isn’t much left. OU really needs Cameron Clark to get going, but after watching him last night, I’m not so sure he will.

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