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Frustrated Sooners look forward to next season

Mike Baldwin Published: March 8, 2012

In his post-game press conference following a season-ending loss to Texas A&M Wednesday night in the Big 12 Tournament Oklahoma men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger offered his standard comment:

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Kruger said. “And we look forward to getting started on that right away.”

The Sooners finished 15-16 in Kruger’s inaugural season. It’s close to what many projected but was a disappointment following a 10-2 non-conference record. It was OU’s third consecutive losing season.

There were some positives but each was offset by shortcomings.

Romero Osby, a Mississippi State transfer, was among the conference’s top rebounders and averaged nearly 15 points the final two months.

Guard Steven Pledger, a sharpshooter, was among the conference’s top scorers but limited off-the-dribble skills make him one dimensional.

Andrew Fitzgerald averaged a dozen points but must provide more rebounding and play better defensively.

Point guard Sam Grooms led the league in assists-to-turnover ratio but lacks an outside shot which led to defenses sagging off him, doubling defensively on Fitzgerald, Osby and Pledger.

The difference between being a post-season team rather than a team that finished 5-14 against league foes was the Sooners lacked mental toughness, something players said will motivate them in the off-season.

“I feel it can’t get worse,” Osby said. “Playing in the Big 12 you can’t do anything but get better. All these tough battles we had this year should help us to learn how to win games next year and put it all together.”

Fitzgerald said a full year under Kruger gives players a foundation moving forward.

“Now we know what we need to do,” Fitzgerald said. “Now we know coach’s offensive game and his defensive mindset. It comes down to us taking advantage of it, go from there and learn from our experiences, for me the past three seasons.”

Grooms repeatedly said coaches have done their job that it’s up to players to take the next step to develop into an NCAA Tournament caliber team next season when OU returns all five starters.

“I’m almost certain next year will be better than 15-16,” Grooms said. “We could have easily been 25-9 if we had played better as a team. Our team chemistry has to get better. We have to work hard in the off season to change a lot of things.”

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