Sooners' close call to KU nothing to celebrate
Groves' collapse, others' inability to fill void, at heart of losing streak
It would be easier to believe in first-year coach Porter Moser’s Sooners if Tanner Groves could make a shot.
A day later, that angle of Oklahoma’s 67-64 Tuesday night home-court loss to Kansas appears to be going uncovered.
Groves, the 6-foot-10 senior transfer center, who arrived in Norman from Eastern Washington with his younger (and one-inch shorter) brother Jacob in tow, was averaging a team-high 14.3 points following OU’s last win, a 79-66 victory over then-No. 11 Iowa State.
Since, in losses to Texas, TCU and the No. 7 Jayhawks, Groves has netted 17 points, total, making 8 of 24 shots and none of his seven 3-point attempts. This from a player who’d been shooting 59.1 percent and 40.4 percent from 3-point land before the losing began.
On paper, it’s an epic collapse.
Watching it play out has been even worse.
Still, most disappointing of all may be what it says about Groves’ team, because if for no other reason than its new coach’s infectious enthusiasm, everybody wants to believe in OU right now, yet an actually good team’s top scorer does not go splat for so long.
Good teams are not that fragile.
Moser is infectious.
Moser’s Sooners play hard.
Mosier’s Sooners defend.
Tuesday, they held Kansas to 52 points past the game’s first 36 minutes.
Indeed, Groves’ fall and his team’s three-game losing streak don’t seem to be getting in the way of Moser’s good cheer, nor how his team is being regarded.
During Tuesday’s ESPN broadcast, color analyst Fran Fraschilla went on about the depth of Big 12 hoops, how every team could be an NCAA tourney team but Oklahoma State, and not the Pokes, who just beat Baylor in Waco, only because they’ve been barred.
The questions to Moser following the loss were more about everything OU must have done right to play the No. 7 team in the nation so close than the shortcomings that kept it from winning.
He was asked how disappointing the loss was rather than why his team lost.
He was asked about the atmosphere, which was pretty good, almost 10,000 in the building and a full student section.
He was asked about the 20-2 run in which OU went from 44-32 down with 17:29 remaining to 52-46 up with 9:13 remaining.
He was asked how his team played offensively and defensively down the stretch.
Moser stayed positive.
“I think we’re going to win a lot of games,” he said. “The way [we] played, our guys played so hard. [We] did a lot of good things.”
“I thought it was great,” he said of the scene. “The students were unbelievable.”
“We picked and popped Tanner. Tanner had a really nice look,” he said of the offense at the end. “I think Elijah Harkless had a really nice look in the corner, in front of our bench … I thought we did some good things.”
“The last one, they kicked it to the corner, and you push pause,” he said, addressing OU’s end-of-game defense. “[KU’s Christian Braun] is 20-some feet away and it’s a big contested 3. So, you know, that’s what winning teams [do], make plays.”
He neglected to say, “and we didn’t.”
Moser did not mention Groves’ shocking decline, nor Harkless’ spat of bad basketball either: 8 of 31 shooting over the losing streak, seven turnovers in a one-point loss at TCU, -21 over his 29 minutes against Kansas.
Is Moser supposed to go into those things a few minutes after letting one get away against the Jayhawks?
Would everybody feel a little better if he’d at least gone a little deeper on what ails his team?
“We’ve still got some shooting woes,” is about the only place he went.
Though it might have gotten in the way of the narrative media covering his team still appear happy to let him have, it would have been more encouraging to hear Moser acknowledge what isn’t happening and that might have started with Groves (or Harkless), who wasn’t just missing shots, but wasn’t taking them with any confidence either.
Most were short.
He avoided others.
His body language was bad.
It was hard to watch.
The looks may have been good, but at no point did Groves (or Harkless) look like a player who even wanted the ball, despite netting 35 points against Kansas at the NCAA Tournament playing for Eastern Michigan last March 20.
Look, it’s not even about Groves (or Harkless).
Maybe he’ll come back strong.
But on a team that’s lost three straight, two of which demanded merely not-horrible games from players it hangs its hat on to win, it’s not about the good things, but the bad.
Things aren’t going well because you’re getting good looks and making the other team work. They’re going poorly because nobody can make a shot, it’s questionable who wants to and you keep losing winnable games.
Freshman point guard Bijan Cortes stepped in and beat Iowa State. Others have had the chance since, none have answered, and for a team that likes to think it’s going places that’s a serious problem.