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Archive for Friday, January 16, 2004

Back-to-back losses leave Sooners reeling

OU’s plunge in polls likely to continue after setbacks against UConn, OSU

January 16, 2004

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— Just like that, Oklahoma's once-promising season is in a dangerous tailspin.

The 11th-ranked Sooners were handed their second-straight lopsided loss Wednesday night, a 77-56 defeat at archrival Oklahoma State that had coach Kelvin Sampson wondering if his youngest team in a decade has the spunk to turn it around.

"We are a little bit, not necessarily in disarray, but kind of a fragile team right now," Sampson said. "That was a buzzsaw that we played (Wednesday) and at Connecticut. We knew that we would go through some growing pains."

Have they ever.

Oklahoma was routed 86-59 by top-ranked Connecticut Sunday, then followed that with a particularly sloppy effort at Oklahoma State. It was the first time the Sooners lost consecutive games by more than 20 points since 1969.

The Sooners, ranked sixth before the loss to the No. 1 Huskies, likely will continue their tumble down the Top 25 poll.

And it might get worse before it gets any better: Oklahoma must face similarly slumping Missouri Saturday and, two days later, travel to No. 22 Texas Tech.

Sampson shook his head in frustration Wednesday night as he ticked off all of the Sooners' glaring flaws: a sputtering offense, a surprisingly porous defense, too much youth at key positions and a lingering shoulder injury that has hampered standout power forward Kevin Bookout all season.

"I've got to be a little bit more patient with this bunch," he said. "This is not a normal Oklahoma team and that is something that I am finding out. This team's got to grow up and get a lot tougher."

Oklahoma's problems start on offense, where the Sooners don't have anyone other than 5-foot-7 freshman guard Drew Lavender who can create their own shot.

Lavender is the team's leading scorer at 12.7 points a game, a problem for a team that needs its point guard to be more of a playmaker.

Making matters worse has been the ineffectiveness of Bookout, the Sooners' lone offensive threat in the post. The sophomore forward didn't play the final seven minutes of Wednesday's game after aggravating his severely sprained right shoulder and left the court in tears.

Sampson said Bookout might be on the verge of season-ending surgery.

"It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility," Sampson said. "I just had a hard time watching (Bookout) tonight. He's such a warrior."

Even more surprising has been the Sooners' complete breakdown on defense, typically a trademark of Sampson's program over the past decade: Oklahoma State and Connecticut both shot better than 52 percent in their victories over Oklahoma.

"I don't know that we've ever had a bad defensive team at Oklahoma," Sampson said. "Then again, I've never depended on this many freshmen."

It might be asking too much of this team, which has six freshmen and sophomores on the roster, to duplicate the success of a team that won the last three Big 12 Tournament titles and was a game within its second-straight Final Four last season.

Looking back on its ascent into the Top 10, Oklahoma's biggest victories this season came over then highly ranked teams such as Michigan State and Purdue. Both teams have since dropped out of the Associated Press poll following several losses.

The crowds at Connecticut and Oklahoma State each had suggestions about Oklahoma's problems, chanting "Overrated! Overrated!" as the Sooners fell further behind in those games.

Sampson didn't sound sure that his group of youngsters could get things turned around as the Big 12 title race gets under way.

"There's going to be some tough nights with this team," he said.

"We've beat up on people so much these last few years. There ain't nobody feeling sorry for us."

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