Sooners Have Separated Themselves from Bottom

OU forward Andrew Fitzgerald

The Sooners have gotten hot on the hardwood as of late.

GETTING INSIDE

Sooners Get Rare Road Win

Just when Oklahoma seemed destined to milk whatever was possible out of its homecourt and lose out on the road, the Sooners pulled out a thriller.

Well, make that Steven Pledger. The sophomore guard scored a career-best 38 points, including 12 in overtime, as Oklahoma won 82-76 at Iowa State on Jan. 29.

Granted, the Cyclones were picked to finish last in the Big 12 and that's exactly where they sit. But after losing each of its first four road games by an average of 16.5 points, the victory was a definite, and unexpected, lift for the young Sooners (11-9, 3-3). The win snapped a 12-game skid in true road games dating to a December win last season at Utah.

Pledger not only carried the Sooners in overtime, but extended the game by draining a 3-pointer with 35 seconds remaining in regulation.

His output, coupled with the scoring potential of senior Cade Davis and freshman Cameron Clark, gives the Sooners some options offensively, though they entered the Iowa State game ranked last in the Big 12 with a 61.6-point average in conference play.

A breakthrough, perhaps? Sure. Any win on the road is important, and especially for a team that relies on only one senior. The victory also extended the Sooners' win streak to three games. All came against rivals in the bottom half of the Big 12 standings, but still, any boost in confidence is worthwhile.

NOTES, QUOTES

--With an off week to prepare for a Jan. 29 visit to Iowa State, Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel made sure his players' attention didn't drift from basketball. He called a 6 a.m. Monday practice on Jan. 24, and to Capel's satisfaction each of the Sooners arrived 15 minutes early.

--Although F Andrew Fitzgerald weighs about 40 pounds less (between 230 and 235) than he did last season as a freshman, he struggles to play above the rim. Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel comforts Fitzgerald about his vertical challenges and told the Tulsa World the forward's lack of hops actually helps in some ways. "He has always had to be creative, getting angles and developing a really good touch," Capel said.

BY THE NUMBERS: 7-for-7 -- Overtime success for Oklahoma under fifth-year coach Jeff Capel. The OT win at Iowa State was the second of the season for the Sooners, who also won in overtime on Nov. 15 against North Carolina Central.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "A heck of an effort by our guys (at Iowa State). I thought we showed tremendous character and guts. And what can you say about the way Pledger played? He made so many big plays for us." -- Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel, referring to G Steven Pledger, who contributed a career-high 38 points.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

GAME PREVIEW:

--vs. Baylor, Feb. 2

KEY MATCHUPS: Continuing to maintain a homecourt edge is important for the Sooners to not only gain confidence, but factor into the Big 12 race as a spoiler. Baylor struggles on the road, and probably won't force Oklahoma to rely much on its thin bench because the Bears' zone defense is quite inactive at times.

--at Oklahoma State, Feb. 5.

KEY MATCHUPS: The renewal of Bedlam won't attract considerable attention outside of the state, and even their interest could be limited as fans finish evaluating the latest football signings. The Cowboys can score in different ways, off stickbacks (F Marshall Moses), drives (F Jean-Paul Olukemi) and 3-point bombs (G Keiton Page).

FUTURES MARKET: Not to downplay the road win Oklahoma secured in overtime at Iowa State on Jan. 29, but the Sooners were coming off a week's rest, which was important for a young team that usually plays each of its starters at least 30 minutes. Oklahoma had fresher legs after forcing overtime. A shortage of depth, however, will remain an issue, especially now that the Big 12 schedule will not lighten up the remainder of the season.

PLAYER NOTES

--Sophomore G Steven Pledger scored a career-best 38 points at Iowa State, the most by a Big 12 player this season in league play. He made a career-high seven 3-pointers on 13 attempts, going 2-for-2 from that distance in overtime.

--Freshman G Cameron Clark added 11 points as the only other Sooner to join Pledger in double figures at Iowa State. Clark is averaging 13.4 points over an eight-game stretch through Jan. 29.

--Junior forward C.J. Washington is not a huge scorer, but he does provide some help on the defensive end, recording five rebounds, one block and two steals at Iowa State.

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