NORMAN — Sam Grooms wasn't sick.
At least, that's what Oklahoma men's basketball coach Lon Kruger confirmed the day before his senior reserve sat the entire first half of the Sooners' game against Kansas State.
“He's feeling fine,” Kruger said of Grooms, who scored five points in the final minute of the Sooners' 52-50 loss.
Grooms wasn't playing as many minutes because he wasn't playing defense. The same is true, Kruger said, for senior guard Steven Pledger.
Kruger said he knows his team needs to be stronger defensively going into Monday's Big 12 game at Iowa State. The Cyclones are a strong team that leads the league in scoring and beats most teams from beyond the arc.
For that, the Sooners will need Grooms, who ended Saturday's game vs. Kansas State with 12 minutes played, and Pledger, who played just eight minutes in the second half.
“Again, having trouble getting shots and getting separation from his man,” Kruger said of Pledger. “Then defensively had some trouble staying close to his men, too. Steve will bounce back.”
He said something similar of Grooms: “Just got to get a few better results, especially on the defensive end. That's an area where we can't have possessions where we don't get down and really work at guarding people. Sam will bounce back, and he'll play key minutes for us and still contribute in a lot of ways.”
Against the Wildcats, the pair combined for two assists, three turnovers, one steal and two rebounds. Last season, Pledger and Grooms were the fourth- and fifth-best defensive rebounders on the team.
The defense issues started two weeks ago, also against K-State. Grooms and Pledger grabbed five rebounds and combined for seven assists and four turnovers. But while it hasn't been a consistent thing with Pledger, Grooms said playing better defense is something Kruger has stressed to him since arriving at OU.
“It was just clear cut,” Grooms said. “I need to do more defensively to help the team out.”
Grooms, who was the starting point guard last year, went from reserve all the way to scout team during the last week of practice.
“He got his point across,” Grooms said of Kruger.
In practice, Grooms looked frustrated. He knew, athletically, he was talented enough to do what his coach was asking from him. Every day, the coaching staff told him what he needed to change.
Then came the reduction in his playing time. He played two minutes in a victory against Baylor and then sat on the bench in the opening half against Kansas State.
“He really got his point across. ‘Sam, you gotta play defense if you want to play for me. It's good that you can lead us in assists and make plays on players, but what are you doing on the other end?' They needed more from me,” Grooms said.
“They basically took the ball away from me. If it's something that you love, you'll figure out a way to get back out there.”