NORMAN — Isaiah Cousins has sometimes been the overlooked starter for Oklahoma this season.
Cousins doesn't score in a flashy way like Buddy Hield or Cam Clark; he doesn't put up double-doubles with toughness the way Ryan Spangler does; he doesn't get to the like Jordan Woodard.
But Cousins has been one of the most critical pieces for the Sooners in recent weeks as Oklahoma has moved closer to securing an NCAA Tournament berth with improved defense.
“He's just been harassing the point guard,” Hield said. “He knows his role, and we really appreciate what he's doing. He's setting the tone and getting everybody fired up.”
Spangler has been a tough interior presence defensively all season for the Sooners. But they've lacked a guard who provides similar skills on the perimeter, until Cousins stepped into the role.
“He's tough,” Hield said of the guard from Mount Vernon, N.Y. “With his background and where he came from, that's what they do. They play hard. He just keeps getting better and better.”
Sooners coach Lon Kruger said Cousins has had the physical skills to be a plus defender. It was just a matter of getting him to buy into that role.
“I think here lately he's embraced that role a little bit more,” Kruger said. “He's always taken pride in defense, but now he's taking a little more pride in meeting the ball and setting a tone out front and that's what's helped us defensively.”
Cousins' explanation is simple.
“It's just about getting after it on defense,” he said.
In Saturday's win over Baylor, Cousins was effective defensively, especially after halftime.
But he also had his best offensive game of his Oklahoma career, scoring a career-high 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting. He was 3 of 4 from behind the 3-point line.
“My teammates just wanted me to be more aggressive,” Cousins said. “I had to step up and just do what I do — attack.”
While his defense has been solid recently, Cousins' offense has been high and low all season.
“I've got to be more consistent,” Cousins said. “That's the thing about my season right now, I've had some ups and downs.
“I've got my confidence up and feel like I'm in a better position to be consistent.”