After producing eight points and ten rebounds in 27 minutes of action Saturday in No. 21 Oklahoma’s 68-56 win at TCU, senior forward TaShawn Thomas left the game with just over seven minutes remaining with an eye injury. Thomas, who has become more comfortable in Lon Kruger’s system as the season’s progressed after transferring in from Houston, did not return to the game.
According to Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman, Kruger didn’t know much about the status of his starting forward after the game. That’s an issue, as the Sooners scheduled to host No. 11 Iowa State Monday night in what is a quick turnaround for both teams (the Cyclones also played Saturday).
Thomas exited the game and after being checked out by team trainer Alex Brown, did not return.
“He got hit in the eye,” Sooners coach Lon Kruger said. “I don’t know anything really more than that at this point.”
While the Sooners did manage to out-rebound TCU by four Saturday, the problem for Oklahoma was that the Horned Frogs managed to grab 21 offensive rebounds and that was with Thomas on the floor for a significant portion of the game. A similar issue against an Iowa State team that’s much better equipped to take advantage of second chances could cost Oklahoma dearly.
In conference games Thomas is averaging 10.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, with Ryan Spangler (7.3 rpg) being the lone Sooner who’s performed better on the glass.
You Make The Call: Was this a charge on TaShawn Thomas? (VIDEO)
No. 9 Kansas beat No. 18 Oklahoma in one of the most thrilling games you’ll see this season. The Jayhawks were up by 19 at halftime, managed to fall behind the Sooners by the ten minute mark of the second half and then proceeded to bounce back from a four-point deficit in the final minutes to take home an 85-78 win.
The biggest sequence of the game came with about four minutes left. Kelly Oubre missed a free throw that would have tied the game at 71 but Cliff Alexander came up with a tough offensive rebound. The ball eventually ended up in Brannen Greene’s hands, and Greene buried a three to give Kansas the lead back. At the other end of the floor, Alexander drew a charge on TaShawn Thomas which led to a Frank Mason Jr. jumper at the other end, put KU back up four points.
Isaiah Cousins would hit a three to cut the lead back to one, but Kansas scored on back-to-back possessions afterwards, capping a decisive, 10-3 run.
The questionable call in that run was the charge on Thomas, who “pushed off” on Alexander before scoring to tie the game at 73. Here’s the play:
You make the call.
Charge? Flop? No-call?
It certainly didn’t lose Oklahoma the game — that atrocious first half did the trick there — but it was a huge momentum swing in the final minutes of a barn-burner.
Buddy Hield finished with 20 points, 10 boards and four assists and Tashawn Thomas had one of his best games as a Sooner, finishing with 24 points and eight boards, as No. 18 Oklahoma beat No. 22 Baylor, 73-63.
The Sooners did a great job of breaking down the Baylor zone. The way to beat the Bears is to get the ball to the baseline, allowing your front line to finish around the rim or kick the ball out to shooters when the defense collapses, and that’s exactly what they did. Thomas was 11-for-17 from the floor and Hield combined with Isaiah Cousins to score 39 points and hit nine threes.
Everyone knows about how good Hield is, but on Saturday we all got a glimpse of the two guys that will be the difference-makers for this team. It’s been written over and over again, but getting Thomas eligible was so important because it gave Lon Kruger another scorer — a more athletic one — along his front line. But the play of Cousins is key as well, as he’s one of the most improved players in the Big 12 conference and takes a lot of pressure off of Hield.
The Sooners trailed late in the first half, but they made the game-changing run early in the second half thanks to their defense, holding the Bears without a field goal for more than six minutes as they opened up a double-digit lead.
That’s been a major difference this season as well. The Sooners were not a very good defensive team last season, but as we enter the throes of conference play, the Sooners are No. 5 in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom.
As far as Baylor is concerned, this was really their first chance to prove to the nation that they deserved their top 25 ranking, and it didn’t go as planned. Granted, they were playing on the road against a top three team in the league, but there are still some question marks about their back court play.
There should not longer be questions about big man Jonathan Motley, however. He finished with 24 points in the loss.
Weekly Awards: Kyle Wiltjer’s continued growth, and Kansas wins again
Gonzaga is in the Pac-12 portion of their schedule, as they knocked off Washington State and UCLA this past week after losing to Arizona in overtime last week. Wiltjer was Gonzaga’s leading scorer for the week, averaging 22.5 points and 5.0 boards while shooting 66.7 percent from the floor and 5-for-7 from three in the two wins.
Wiltjer has just about made the transition into Gonzaga’s go-to guy this season. Kevin Pangos is the engine that makes this team run, but it’s Wiltjer’s ability to shoot and score from the perimeter that has made them so tough to guard. If you put a smaller player on him, Wiltjer can go into the post and make you pay. If you use a bigger player on him, Gonzaga can put him in pick-and-roll actions with Kevin Pangos, which have proven to be lethal. If you decide to go zone, Wiltjer helps spread the floor for Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski in the paint, working in high-low passes.
Wiltjer is a much different player than Kelly Olynyk, but the impact the former Kentucky Wildcat is having on this team is the same.
THE ALL-THEY-WERE-GOOD, TOO TEAM
Ron Baker, Wichita State: In wins over Seton Hall and at Detroit, Baker averaged 20.5 points, 5.0 boards and 3.5 assists.
TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma: Thomas played his best game as a Sooner on Saturday. He finished with 25 points on 9-for-12 shooting and added three blocks in a win over Tulsa, finally showing why everyone considered his waiver to be immediately eligible a season-changer.
Ty Wallace, Cal: Cal won a pair of close games this week, thanks in large part to Wallace, who finished with 40 points, 16 boards, eight assists and five steals in two games.
T.J. Price, Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers went into Oxford and knocked off Ole Miss on Saturday, and Price led the way with 26 points, 10 boards and five assists.
Amida Brimah, UConn: UConn played just one game this week, and it was Brimah that was the star. The 7-foot Ghanaian finished with 40 points on 13-for-13 shooting from the floor and 14-for-16 shooting from the line in a win over Coppin State. He had 56 points on the season coming in.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kansas Jayhawks
I wrote extensively on Kansas last week after seeing them go into the Verizon Center and knock off a good Georgetown team. You can read that here. If you don’t want to click, my point is essentially this: Kansas is nowhere near complete right now, yet they have already beating Utah, Michigan State, Florida and Tennessee and won at Georgetown. So what happens when they get to full strength?
Kelly Oubre is coming along nicely, as he’s starting to figure things out defensively and getting more aggressive — and a longer leash — offensively. Cliff Alexander is not going to be more than a effort guy that rebounds and dunks and defends this season, but he’s getting closer to being someone that can have a major impact in games. Wayne Selden and Frank Mason are getting more consistent.
It all seemed to be trending in the right direction … until Devonte’ Graham’s toe injury was announced. There’s speculation that he could miss the rest of the season, which would be a major, major blow. We know Kansas has point guard issues. They have for a long time now. And with Conner Frankamp transferring to Wichita State, Mason is now the only point guard on the team.
THEY WERE GOOD, TOO
Colorado State Rams: The Rams won a pair of games this week, but the notable one came on Wednesday when they went into Boulder and knocked off Colorado. CSU is still undefeated this season.
Iowa State Cyclones: Three games this week, three wins. UMKC and Southern are whatever, but the Cyclones also went into Carver-Hawkeye Arena and blew out Iowa on Friday night.
Saint Mary’s Gaels: The Gaels picked up a huge win on Saturday afternoon, going into Omaha and knocking off Creighton in overtime despite the fact that star big man Brad Waldow struggled and Kerry Carter fouling out in overtime.
Incarnate Word Cardinals: The Cardinals lost their first game of the season this week. They also went into Nebraska and knocked off the Cornhuskers. Ken Burmeister has himself a pretty good ball club.
Wofford Terriers: The Terriers are now 8-2 on the season after going into Raleigh and beating N.C. State. They got a bit lucky, but they also got the win, so who cares?
GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK:
UConn vs. No. 2 Duke, Thu. 8:00 p.m.
No. 3 Arizona at UTEP, Fri. 11:00 p.m.
Syracuse at No. 7 Villanova, Sat. 1:00 p.m.
No. 21 North Carolina vs. No. 12 Ohio State, Sat. 1:00 p.m.
No. 15 Butler vs. Indiana, Sat. 2:30 p.m.
UCLA vs. No. 1 Kentucky, Sat. 3:30 p.m.
No. 16 Oklahoma at No. 17 Washington, Sat. 9:00 p.m.
While seniors TaShawn Thomas and Ryan Spangler lead the way for No. 16 Oklahoma in the front court, 6-foot-9 freshman forward Khadeem Lattin is one of two interior players (D.J. Bennett being the other) who are called upon to give either of those two starters a break on occasion. In the Sooners’ 87-68 win at Tulsa Saturday, Lattin chipped in with five points and four rebounds in 11 minutes of action.
Unfortunately for Lattin, he also suffered a right knee injury in the second half of Saturday’s game. The good news is that he returned to the Oklahoma bench shortly thereafter, and according to Ryan Aber of The Oklahomanthe injury isn’t thought to be a serious one.
But a few minutes after Lattin was helped to the locker room, he returned to the bench smiling and conversing freely with his teammates while he wore an ice pack.
“They’re checking his knee out a little bit further now but the trainer, Alex (Brown), said he could’ve gone back out there in the second half if we got to that position so that was encouraging news,” OU coach Lon Kruger said.
As a result of Lattin’s injury C.J. Cole played a season-high six minutes Saturday, as Spangler was saddled with foul trouble. What helped Oklahoma win by such a comfortable margin was the play of Thomas, who produced his best game in a Sooner uniform.
Thomas, whose season-high prior to Saturday was 14 points in a loss at Creighton, scored 25 points and grabbed five rebounds in 34 minutes of action.
When news broke that the NCAA had granted Oklahoma’s TaShawn Thomas immediate eligibility, the expectation of many was that not only would the former Houston power forward cement the Sooners’ status as a Big 12 title contender but he would also make them a team capable of reaching the Final Four. That may very well be the case, with Oklahoma putting together a solid showing at the Battle 4 Atlantis that ended with a title game loss to No. 2 Wisconsin.
But the process of fully incorporating Thomas into the offensive attack is one that’s taken some time, as he’s a piece the program hasn’t had in recent years. Thomas gives Oklahoma a player capable of scoring consistently on the low block, and it’s taken some time for the Sooner guards to get used to this according to Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World.
“Coach told me these guys never really had a big man they could throw it to,” Thomas said. “They’ve still got to get used to it. I know that’s going to take some time. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Coaches and teammates must adjust from last year. Thomas must change, too. He must be more selfish.
“There’s times where I get the ball and I think I need to shoot. And I’ll think about it and I’ll pass the ball,” he said. “Coach has been telling me to be more assertive on offense. I feel like it’s gonna start picking up.”
Through six games Oklahoma’s shooting just under 40 percent from the field and 31.2% from three, figures that do not approach the percentages the Sooners shot in 2013-14 (44.7% FG, 37.9% 3PT). Part of that is the funk some of Oklahoma’s guards have been mired in, with Buddy Hield shooting 36.7% from the field and both Frank Booker (30.3%) and Jordan Woodard (25 percent) struggling as well.
The other factor is the caliber of shot that Oklahoma is getting, as there have been times when they’ve taken challenged jumpers instead of working the ball inside. And while Thomas, by his own admission, needs to be a little more selfish in both demanding and shooting the basketball his presence can open things up for Oklahoma’s other offensive weapons.
The process of getting Thomas more involved in the offense will be something to keep an eye on as Oklahoma completes its non-conference schedule, beginning Friday night against Missouri.