LAWRENCE, Kansas — As the catcalls and jeers rained down, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger tried to keep his players heads up and above the Phog Wednesday night.
The No. 23 Sooners (11-2, 0-1 Big 12) needed to get through their visit to No. 5 Kansas' with their confidence still in tact. The 70-63 loss was only the beginning, the Big 12 opener.
After the Jayhawks (12-1, 1-0) answered a hot Sooner start with a 15-point run, it became clear that it was not OU's night to end its Allen Fieldhouse losing streak, dating back to 1993.
In order to win at college basketball's toughest venue, Kruger said an opponent needed to have “great focus.” OU had 17 turnovers.
He said his team needed to “shoot well.” The Sooners were 25 of 62, 40.3 percent, including a 5 of 22 mark from beyond the 3-point line. And then, he added, KU needed to have “a bit of an off night.”
But without starting center Jamuni McNeace for most of the game, still limited by an ankle sprain, the visitors were pushed around, giving up 12 offensive rebounds and 40 points in the paint. Christian James, who entered the game as the Big 12's fourth-leading scorer (17.9), had a double-double, 11 points and 12 rebounds, but did it on 4 of 15 shooting.
With all of that, the Sooners could be applauded for keeping it close in a place where pretty much no one wins, and afterwards, Kruger made sure to point to the road ahead.
“It's not like confidence has changed coming out of this ballgame either way,” he said. “We've got to understand there are 18 tough battles in conference play. This was a tough one where we couldn't quite get back over the hump.”
After looking unshaken through their first 12 contests, the Sooners had finally lost their cool.
It started with James, who frustratingly slapped his leg even as he hit his first and only 3-pointer of the game with 11:46 left.
He thought that would get him going, but a few possessions later, he had his third airball, coming on a 3-point attempt the Jayhawks happily gave him. He had the other two on a single trip earlier in the second half.
“He put a little pressure on himself to do too much,” Kruger said. “But he'll bounce back. He's put a lot of time in and he's got a lot of confidence in what he's doing.”
The Sooners started with so much promise, taking a 7-0 lead.
Miles Reynolds, who said he was unafraid of the hostile environment, rattled in a floater off the glass, Kristian Doolittle slammed home a dunk and Brady Manek drilled his first 3-pointer to force Kansas coach Bill Self to call a timeout just 2:33 into the game.
Kansas answered with a 21-2 run, as OU missed 10 of its next 11 shots.
“Coach just got on us in the huddle and said guys were asleep,” KU forward Dedric Lawson said. “He was right.”
Manek recorded his fourth double-double of the season, first since Nov. 18, scoring a team-high 16 points with 12 rebounds. Doolittle added 12 points and eight rebounds, but the duo struggled against Kansas' 7-foot 270-pound center Udoka Azubuike and the 6-9, 230-pound Lawson.
They combined for 21 points and 24 rebounds while also swatting away five shots. Those blocks, along with OU's 17 giveaways, helped the Jayhawks take off in transition, slicing up the Sooners in the first half.
They crawled back in the second half, squeezing the Jayhawks to keep a glimmer of hope alive, but as Aaron Calixte missed a layup, down five with 23 seconds left, and Doolittle couldn't convert the putback, the inevitable became a reality. KU had won its 28th-straight conference opener, and OU walked out Allen Fieldhouse again disappointed, its coach hoping his players hadn't lost their early-season swagger.
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