NORMAN — The first month-plus of Oklahoma's basketball season had been a pretty smooth ride.
The Sooners hadn't experienced much in the way of adversity, and everyone was healthy. Outside of an 11-point loss to top-ranked Michigan State, OU hadn't been beaten.
That charm seemed to be fading in early December, though.
First, Je'lon Hornbeak broke his foot in practice Dec. 10 and was thought to be out four to six weeks.
Then, late in the first half of the Dec. 14 game against Tulsa, Ryan Spangler — Oklahoma's lone inside presence on both ends — was hit on his lower leg and didn't return to the game.
But Spangler, wearing a compression sleeve on the leg, has played two of his better games since the injury, and Hornbeak could be back faster than originally thought.
Going into Monday's 7:05 p.m. nonconference finale at home against Louisiana Tech, the Sooners are in solid shape offensively and coming along defensively.
“Our offense is where it needs to be,” Spangler said. “We just need to get a little bit better on defense and just work together. If I can lead that on the back line, let everybody know what's going on, we can get better.”
Spangler has become the Sooners' leader on the defensive end. In a 64-52 win over Texas A&M on Dec. 21, Spangler had 13 rebounds — eight on the defensive end — and three blocks.
“He's really our energy of our team,” Cameron Clark said. “He just knows the game. He's our leader defensively. He's still not 100 percent, but that's the type of player he is. He busts it every night.”
Spangler said he was still being affected by the injury, mainly cramping in the leg. He said he hoped to ditch the compression sleeve in the next few weeks.
As for Hornbeak, the Sooners' sixth man and backup point guard took a step toward returning over the last few days.
Over Christmas break, Hornbeak ditched the boot he has worn since his injury. He returned to practice in a limited capacity late in the week.
Sooners coach Lon Kruger said there was still some hope that Hornbeak would be available for the Big 12 opener Saturday at Texas, but his return could come Jan. 8 against Kansas or Jan. 11 against Iowa State.