Conference play is completely different season in college basketball, especially in the Big 12 where there is no such thing as a night off.
Oklahoma came into the season with a lot of expectations, most of them surrounding how the Sooners would fare in conference play. The Sooners got off to a great start on Saturday, riding a strong defensive showing in the second half to take down No. 22 Baylor, 73-63.
The Sooners can't spend much time celebrating Saturday's win. A road trip to No. 11 Texas awaits them on Monday night at 8 p.m., but Oklahoma showed plenty of positive signs that should be encouraging going forward.
First, the Sooners' best players came up big on Saturday, particularly TaShawn Thomas. Thomas found plenty of soft spots in the Baylor zone to score a game-high 24 points on 110of-17 shooting. The addition of Thomas has been a great thing for the Sooners, but he hasn't consistently shown the dominance he showed when he was at Houston.
That changed on Saturday. In addition to some great big-to-big passing between himself and Ryan Spangler that resulted in easy buckets, Thomas consistently stepped outside for 15-foot jumpers. The scoring threat Thomas presented opened the floor for Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins, who had 20 and 19 points, respectively.
Cousins and Hield each went 5-of-12 from the floor and hit four 3-pointers each. But they also did a great job on the boards, working inside the Baylor big men to get big rebounds. The two combined for 18 rebounds, with Hield grabbing a team-high 10.
For the game, the Sooners out-rebounded Baylor, 40-35, a huge win since the Bears came into the game outrebounding opponents by an average of 11.8 boards per game. The Sooners were also the first team to score more than 66 points against the Bears this year.
While the Sooners got whatever shots they wanted for almost the entire game and played great defense in the second half, the win wasn't without its sore spots. Oklahoma had problems with the Bears' size on the interior, particularly in the first half. Freshman Johnathan Motley was a problem for the Sooners all day, scoring a game-high 24 points, but foul trouble limited his effectiveness in the second half at key moments as the Sooners built a double-digit lead.
Oklahoma also got zero production from the bench unit, as four players combined for just two points and missed all five shots they took from the field. The only points came on two Dinjiyl Walker free throws. The Sooners can't afford to put all the production on the shoulders of their starters. The Big 12 is just too deep and too tough for that to happen.
The road is long and difficult, but Saturday's win over Baylor was a good first step for the Sooners, as Oklahoma looks to make noise in the Big 12 this season.