Oklahoma Sooners: Steven Pledger

Three-star shooting guard Frank Booker Jr. (Augusta, Ga./Westside) is now off the board after committing to Oklahoma over offers from Texas A&M, Tennessee and a late push by in-state Georgia.

"I selected Oklahoma because the players made me feel very comfortable and welcome,” said Booker. “They are very family oriented, and I like that. Coach Kruger is a very successful coach, and he will help me get better."

Booker is a very aggressive guard with good size at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds and should be an impact player with the Sooners.
The Oklahoma basketball coaching staff knew what it needed to pursue this winter. The Sooners need more offensive firepower, need more scoring going forward.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

With Carl Blair's decision to leave the program, Oklahoma is left without a returning backup for starting point guard Sam Grooms.

Spring signee Isaiah Cousins (Mount Vernon, N.Y./Mount Vernon) could fit the bill. At 6-foot-4, Cousins could bring excellent size to the position behind Grooms, who is listed at 6-foot-1.

“He’s very good off the dribble, very good at creating for others, he has good size at the point guard spot,” OU coach Lon Kruger said recently. “Sam is the only point guard we have returning so it’s good he can step in and play there.”

Cousins picked OU over offers from Virginia Tech, Xavier, Dayton and Rhode Island. He brings the versatility to play point guard and shooting guard. The Sooners already have Steven Pledger returning at shooting guard along with incoming freshmen Buddy Hield and Je’lon Hornbeak at that position, making point guard a perfect fit for Cousins.

[+] EnlargeLon Kruger
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiOklahoma coach Lon Kruger is excited about his new point guard Isaiah Cousins
Carl Blair, Grooms’ backup last season, elected to leave the program after his junior season and is likely headed to Prairie View A&M.

Two-sport standouts?

Incoming freshman football players Gary Simon and Charles Tapper didn’t leave their excellence on the football field during their prep careers. Both Oklahoma signees were standouts on the basketball court after spending the fall on the gridiron.

Tapper starred as a power forward for Baltimore City College High School and spent a portion of his career playing AAU basketball alongside Aquille Carr on the Baltimore Elite AAU team.

Simon was named player of the year while averaging 18.4 points per game for St. Petersburg (Fla.) Gibbs as a senior. He’s said he would like to play basketball at OU.

Sooners basketball coach Lon Kruger would welcome the duo with open arms but is uncertain if either player will join his squad this season.

“[We’re] not sure,” Kruger said when asked if they would join his squad after football. “We heard a couple of them had interest in coming out and if that works out, great. We love people that play more than one sport.”

Greener pastures?

More than 400 players have elected to transfer since the end of the college basketball season in early April.

Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger isn’t too surprised by all of the transfers nationwide.

“I think it’s a statement on society in general,” Kruger said. “If you look at young people, they’re changing summer AAU teams all the time. It used to be that freshmen go in, and it’s going to be a matter of time, they pay their dues.

“Kids don’t think like that today. They go in right now and if they aren’t playing the role they want to, they’ll go somewhere else to play that role. Often times I think it’s a reflection of young people not making a decision on a college for all the right reasons.”
Immediate impact of Ryan Spangler's addition to Oklahoma’s mens basketball program is easy to see:

The Sooners have one more scholarship player on campus heading into 2013-14.

[+] EnlargeRyan Spangler
Robert Johnson/Icon SMIRyan Spangler will be able to contribute for the Sooners in the 2013-2014 season.
While that sounds like a simple analysis, one glance at OU’s roster shows the observation goes much deeper. The Sooners ended the season with six scholarship juniors including forward Romero Osby, guard Steven Pledger and guard Sam Grooms.

In other words, OU’s roster will be gutted after the 2012-13 season.

And Spangler, who chose to leave Gonzaga after one season and will be a sophomore, will be poised to step right in and become a core member of the 2013-14 squad. A former Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year from Bridge Creek, Okla., Spangler averaged 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds in 22 games for Gonzaga but wanted to play closer to home.

"It's always extra special to have in-state guys as part of the OU program," said Kruger, "Although Ryan enjoyed his time at Gonzaga we're especially pleased that he's returning home to be a Sooner. He's a very natural rebounder, a tough guy on the boards and has an ability to score inside and outside. Ryan's work ethic will allow him to make great strides during his redshirt season."

Spangler is likely to join Amath M'Baye, Cameron Clark and Tyler Neal as the foundation of the 2013-14 team after he sits out this season. Incoming freshman Buddy Hield, Je'lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins will also be battling to contribute. Spangler joins fellow 2012 spring signee D.J. Bennett">D.J. Bennett as the lone post players amongst that group.

At 6-foot-8, 232 pounds, Spangler is a versatile big man who should earn significant playing time immediately and become a core member of OU’s post rotation. He’s an efficient scorer who can shoot and prefers to face up and use his athleticism against defenders.

Having Spangler spending a season learning Kruger’s expectations cannot be overlooked. And having another 6-foot-8 post player already in the fold will change Kruger’s recruiting approach. While OU will still need to recruit additional size, the need is lessened by Spangler’s (and Bennett’s) presence.

Overall, the addition of Spangler to the Sooners’ roster is a great development for OU. He’ll help immediately as a sophomore in 2013-14 and don’t be surprised if he develops into a double-double player (double figure points and rebounds) during his career in crimson and cream.
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.”

Oklahoma’s season ended with a thud on Wednesday night.

The Sooners suffered a 62-53 loss to Texas A&M in the first round of the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Mo., after defeating the same Aggies squad just five days earlier. It is the third-straight losing season for OU, who finished 15-16 overall and 5-13 in Big 12 regular season play.

OU’s leading scorer Steven Pledger was held to six points, his lowest point total since Feb. 18 and just the third time he didn’t score in double figures since Jan. 9. He finished 2-of-8 from the field including 0-of-4 from the three point line but did have three assists.

Player of the Game: Romero Osby. The junior scored 17 points on just six shots. He was 9 of 12 from the free throw line, so he was involved in the offensive attack and he did a good job handling the Aggies increased defensive attention on him after his career-high 24-point outburst against A&M on March 3.

Unsung Hero: Sam Grooms. The junior point guard was the only other Sooner in double figures with 13 points. He was 5 of 12 from the field with four assists and four turnovers, an unusual 1:1 assist-turnover ratio for the junior. Grooms sensed his team needed additional scoring, with Cameron Clark and Steven Pledger shooting 4-of-15 combined, so he attacked the basket and managed to keep the Sooners in the game despite their offense sputtering.

Key Stat: 13. The Aggies had 13 offensive rebounds leading to 15 second-chance points. Their offensive rebounding and 88.2 percent shooting from the foul line helped offset their 38.2 percent shooting from the field.

Quotable: “We tied the game up, fought back. Missed two shots and had two turnovers and they converted on both of those possessions and they went back up four. When you miss easy ones around the rim and you turn the ball over, you give Big 12 teams the opportunity to go back the other way and to make plays, they're going to do it.” -- Grooms on the Sooners struggles down the stretch.

“When you don't win a lot of games, as many as you want to, consistency is probably going to be a problem. Whether it be maybe turnovers one night or offensive boards, generally it's a stretch in the ballgame we had difficulty in overcoming.” --Kruger on his team’s struggles to win.

“Generally I thought they played with a certain level of enthusiasm, consistently worked hard every day in practice to get better. I liked that about this group from the start.” -- Kruger on his first season in Norman.

Up Next: The Sooners are goin’ fishin’ ... OU is unlikely to receive an NIT bid and accepting a CBI invitation doesn’t make sense for the Sooners.
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.
Oklahoma has its eyes on playing in the postseason.

The Sooners could play their way into the NCAA tournament with an improbable undefeated run through the Big 12 tournament. Or OU could earn an NIT berth with a solid showing at the Big 12 tourney, most likely needing to win at least two games for a chance.

Regardless, the Sooners enter the tourney with some momentum, having split their last four games after losing six straight games to begin February. OU has beaten Oklahoma State and Texas A&M in the past two weeks and will face the Aggies for the third time this season on Wednesday in Kansas City. If the Sooners win they would play top-seeded Kansas on Thursday at 2 p.m. CT.

Here are the keys to the Sooners winning at least one game during the Big 12 tournament, thus giving themselves hope of an NIT birth:

(Read full post)

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.

Oklahoma’s second-half struggles continued on Saturday. The Sooners squandered a halftime lead, falling 70-60 to Baylor at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. The Bears outscored OU 39-26 in the second half as the Sooners never could connect from beyond the arc (0 of 12 from the three-point line).

Player of the Game: Steven Pledger. Even though he was 0 of 5 from the three point line, Pledger finished with 21 points on 8 of 17 shooting. When Pledger went cold early in the second half, the Bears began to pull away.

Unsung Hero: Cameron Clark. The sophomore continues to improve in the final games of the season. He scored 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting with five rebounds and two steals. It was Clark’s fourth straight game in double figures after scoring 14 combined points in his previous four games.

Key Stat: 66.7 percent. Baylor guard Pierre Jackson’s three-point percentage. He was 4 of 6 from the three-point line including 3 of 4 in the second half. He finished with a team-high 18 points including 11 in the final 20 minutes.

Up Next: at Texas on Wednesday at 8 p.m. CT

Preview: Oklahoma at No. 14 Baylor

February, 25, 2012
For the first time this month, Oklahoma enters a game with a happy vibe after winning its first contest since Jan. 28 with a 77-64 victory over Oklahoma State on Wednesday.

The Sooners hope to carry that winning momentum to Waco, Texas, as they take on No. 14 Baylor Saturday at 12:47 p.m. CT. The Bears have struggled in recent weeks, going 2-3 in their past five games with losses to Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri.

Key to OU win: Hitting perimeter shots. If Baylor plays zone like they did in the first meeting, the Sooners can count on Steven Pledger to shoot well (42.9 percent from three-point line) but OU will need Cameron Clark, Carl Blair, Tyler Neal and, most importantly, Sam Grooms to shoot the ball well from the perimeter.

Key to BU win: Limiting the Bears’ open looks from beyond the arc. Perry Jones, Pierre Jackson and Quincy Miller will probably draw most of the attention but Brady Heslip and Anthony Jones can make OU pay if the Sooners leave them open.

Stat line that will tell the tale: Baylor's field goal percentage. Allowing teams to shoot 50 percent or higher has become too commonplace for OU. If they can keep the Bears below 50 percent shooting their chances to win improve significantly because it means the Sooners forced Baylor to take difficult shots.

Sooners X factor: Sam Grooms. Baylor is going to force the OU point guard to make outside shots. If he can do it, it will take the Bears out of their defensive game plan.

Bears X factor: Quincy Miller. The freshman had a subpar game in the first meeting (five points) but he averages 12.0 points per game. He has the size and talent to make a huge impact on Saturday.

Triple option: Okotcha the next Ed Reed? 

February, 24, 2012
Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. OU is really utilizing Tim Kish and Mike Stoops to recruit Arizona and California. I think it's safe to say OU's national recruiting philosophy is here to stay.

2. In case you didn't notice, WR Kameel Jackson tweeted that OU safety Bennett Okotcha was going to be the next "Ed Reed." We didn't hear a lot of talk among players or coaches last year about Okotcha, who redshirted as a freshman. Okotcha, remember, was a huge steal in the 2011 recruiting class, as the Sooners got him to flip from Notre Dame to OU days before signing day. Okotcha obviously has a lot of potential. And safety is a position where the Sooners could use some help. Okotcha will be worth monitoring this spring, to see if he can make a move and earn playing time at a position where playing time is to be had.

3. I give a lot of credit to OU shooting guard Steven Pledger in the win over Oklahoma State on Wednesday. Pledger had to leave momentarily with a slight ankle injury. But hopping around, he hit a couple of huge 3s that staved off OSU's rally.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

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.

One percentage will explain the Sooners memories of playing Iowa State this season.

Fifty percent.

The Cyclones shot 50 percent from the three-point line to defeat Oklahoma, 80-69, at Hilton Coliseum on Saturday afternoon. ISU was 11 of 22 from the three point line and shot 28 of 54 from the field overall (51.9%).

In two wins over the Sooners, ISU shot 26 of 52 from beyond the arc (50%).

Player of the Game: Cameron Clark. The sophomore played with confidence and aggression, finishing with 16 points on 8 of 14 shooting. He added four rebounds and three steals.

Unsung Hero: Tyler Neal. Saturday’s performance makes back-to-back solid production from Neal. The sophomore had 10 points on 4 of 7 shooting with three rebounds and two blocked shots.

Key Stat: 18.1 percent. It was a tough shooting day for OU’s leading scorer Steven Pledger, who was 2 of 11 from the field including 0 of 4 from the three-point line. He scored seven points, 10 points less than his season average.

Up Next: The Sooners will host Bedlam against Oklahoma State on Wednesday at 7 p.m. CT at the Lloyd Noble Center.


Stoops, Players Want To Effect Change
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops sits down with Gene Wojciechowski to discuss his team's stand against racism.