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Oklahoma Uses Smothering First Half To Roll To Win Over Kansas State

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

Maybe a week off is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Oklahoma Sooners.

After losing three of four and struggling through a win over Oklahoma State last week, the Sooners looked fresh and energetic on Saturday, racing out to a 27-point lead in the second half en route to an 86-73 victory over Kansas State.

"I'd say it's an understatement that we caught them on a day they were ready to go," Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said after the game.

Were they ever. The Sooners, bolstered by their best defensive half of the season, stormed to a 41-22 lead at the break and never looked back. The Wildcats rallied late in the second half, but the Sooners maintained their poise at the free throw line in order to come out with their 20th win of the season.

"I thought we opened the game very sharp on both ends of the floor," OU coach Lon Kruger said. "We had a good attack, making the extra pass and then had some turnovers we forced and turned into transition baskets."

Buddy Hield led a very balanced scoring attack with 18 points, while Isaiah Cousins shook off a terrible game against Oklahoma State last week to score 17 points.

"It was a good learning experience for me as a sophomore, that I have to bounce back after a bad game," Cousins said. "It helped my confidence go up to keep playing and keep being aggressive."

Cameron Clark had 11 points and Jordan Woodard chipped in 10 for the Sooners, which had 18 assists on 28 made baskets.

Marcus Foster led the Wildcats with 21 points, 18 of those coming in the second half, when Kansas State whittled a 27-point lead down to just 11 points with 2:53 remaining. Nigel Johnson had 11 points and Thomas Gipson had 10 points.

Every player who played more than just the final minute for both teams, scored on Saturday.

"The off week was good for us," Kruger said. "I thought the week of practice was our best week of practice this year. This group all year long has really understood we have to keep getting better."

The improvement the Sooners have shown over the course of the season has been impressive. Saturday's win gave the Sooners their second straight 20-win season, something OU hasn't accomplished since 2006. The win also kept the Sooners in a tie for third, and that could become a tie for second if Texas loses to Kansas Saturday night.

The Sooners were terrific in all phases in the first half, particularly on defense, where the rest from the off week paid the biggest dividend.

"Our team did a very good job of guarding the ball and making shots in the first half," Hield said. "That really got our spark going."

In the first 20 minutes, the Sooners held Kansas State to 39.1 percent shooting and forced 10 turnovers, which resulted in a 17-2 point differential in points off turnovers.

"Obviously the turnovers in the first half led to some easy baskets and once they got the easy baskets, they got into a heat-check mode and they were making shots," Weber said.

The Sooners led by as many as 25 in the first half, thanks to a 6-of-13 clip from 3-point range. The second half began as much of the same, as the Sooners extended their lead to 27 with 9:42 remaining before the Wildcats mounted a late rally.

3-point shooting from Foster and strong inside play from Gipson helped KSU go on a 25-9 run to draw within 11 with 2:53 left. However, the Sooners responded with two straight defensive stops and hit 5-of-6 free throws to push the lead back to 16 with 1:14 left to ice the game.

The Sooners have a trip to Lawrence, Kan. on Monday night to take on Kansas in a game that has much more meaning than anyone ever expected it to have at the beginning of the season. When it was mentioned, Hield began smiling his toothy grin—before he almost tumbled off the dais, only to be caught by his coach.

"Why not?" Hield responded when asked if he was excited for Monday. "It should be fun up there."

If the Sooners are going to pull off the upset against the Jayhawks on Monday, they'll need another performance like the one they gave against the Wildcats, on both ends of the floor.

"That's what we're going to have to do," Clark said. "Whether we like to do it or not, that's what we have to do to win games."

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