GAME NOTES: The Oklahoma Sooner will attempt to stay perfect on the road this season, as they pull into Fayetteville for Tuesday's non-conference clash with the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Oklahoma is off to a 6-1 start, with its only loss coming on Nov. 23 against Gonzaga (72-47) in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Florida. Since that setback however, the Sooners have ripped off three straight wins, most recently taking down Northwestern State at home last Friday, 69-65. The victory was the 500th of Lon Kruger's college coaching career.
Arkansas opened the season with three straight wins over Sam Houston State (73-68), Longwood (112-63), and Florida A&M (89-60), but since the competition has gotten more difficult it has dropped three in a row. After losing to Arizona State (83-68) and Wisconsin (77-70) on the road, the Razorbacks returned home to play Syracuse in the SEC/Big East Challenge on Nov. 30, falling to the Orange in a 91-82 final.
These two teams have played each other tight over the years, with the Razorbacks holding a slim 14-12 advantage. They have faced each other in each of the past five seasons, with the home team winning each time.
The Sooners have put together an outstanding early-season record despite some modest offensive numbers (.403 field goal percentage, 67.4 ppg), and the mediocrity continued in their latest game as they shot just 22-of-56 from the field (.393). They were able to hold on for the four-point win however, thanks to an impressive showing at the defensive end of the floor where they forced 17 turnovers while holding Northwestern State to just 37.9 percent shooting. Romero Osby had a dreadful game (1-of-8), but he went 9-of-12 from the foul line en route to a team-high 11 points. No other player reached double figures, but Amath M'Baye was effective in the frontcourt with eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks. On the season, Osby (11.1 ppg) and M'Baye (10.1 ppg) are the top scoring options, and each grabs at least seven rebounds per contest. Steven Pledger (9.9 ppg) and Buddy Hield (8.9 ppg) add depth to the guard position for Oklahoma.
Although Arkansas has shot 42.9 percent from the floor in putting up more than 82 ppg, it has been hindered by poor three-point shooting (27-of-103, .262). The struggles from downtown continued in the loss to Syracuse, as the Razorbacks launched 24 shots from beyond the arc, but connected just five times (.208). B.J. Young was only 1-of-6 from three-point range, but he still finished with a game-high 25 points. The guard has gotten off to an excellent start, netting 21.4 ppg on greater than 45 percent field goal efficiency. Marshawn Powell also did his part in the nine-point defeat by netting 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the free throw line, while adding seven rebounds and two steals. Powell registers 13.3 ppg and 5.5 rpg, and Coty Clarke (8.2 ppg) grabs a team-high 6.8 rpg. The Razorbacks' effort at the defensive end hasn't always been great (73.7 ppg), but they are relentless in the turnover battle, forcing more than 18 miscues per game for a plus-8.0 turnover margin.
Even though Oklahoma has just one loss on the season, it has not had an incredibly difficult road thus far, and traveling to Fayetteville will certainly be its toughest road task yet. Arkansas has been anything but consistent, but it should be able feed off the energy in the building to snap its current losing streak.