During the opening round of the tournament, the No. 9 Oklahoma Sooners turned in the most impressive performance of the 64 teams. Building momentum, Lon Kruger began preparing his team for the No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers — the nation’s top scoring defense. Fighting valiantly through forty minutes of play, the program failed to cut into the deficit. Trailing for the duration of the second half, the Sooners season officially ended after a 63-51 defeat.
Quickly falling into a 7-0 hole, the program remained in desperate need of an emotional leader on the floor. During the first half of play, Brady Manek answered the call. Bringing a physical style of play with the ability to move inside and out, the forward knocked down a few crucial shots. Scoring the Sooners first six points of the game, the group showed signs of life.
Playing well behind the arc, Oklahoma relied on the three ball to remain relevant in the contest as the Cavaliers threw an unexpected wrinkle into the game plan. Opting to start Mamadi Diakite at center allowed UVA to guard OU one-on-one across the board. More importantly, Diakite’s length and athleticism counteracted nearly everything Kristian Doolittle attempted with the ball in his hands. Clearly, the decision paid dividends down the stretch as Virginia held Doolittle to 4-of-10 from the field.
In the second half, Christian James assumed the role of leading scoring as Manek fell silent. Connecting on contest three points attempts, the senior guard finished the game with 13 points of his own. Without a consistent complimentary player, Oklahoma failed to close the double-digit gap built by Virginia.
As the season comes to a close, there’s no denying that the Sooners exceeded expectations by not only appearing in the NCAA Tournament but also by winning the first game. Losing a handful of seniors, Lon Kruger looks to rebuild with an incoming class.