Blake Griffin leaned way back Saturday, stretching out on the Sooner bench, his shining white Nikes nearly extending to the sideline. Fully relaxed, Griffin’s contribution to another Oklahoma victory was complete. Early. A notable snapshot? A rare snapshot, with the Sooners’ starting five — the same for every game — piling up the minutes thus far. Each is averaging nearly 30 minutes a contest, which can be understandable come league play, not so much in the non-conference run. A cause for concern? Not necessarily, although Jeff Capel was hoping for more off his bench, where trust from the head coach remains a work in progress. Cade Davis has established himself as the clear sixth man, averaging 19.6 minutes, perimeter shooting and energy off the bench. But beyond Davis, help is sporadic. Ryan Wright and Omar Leary are next in line, with Ray Willis, Kyle Cannon and Orlando Allen on occasional call. Tight games have tightened Capel’s circle of comfort. In the loss at Arkansas, where four players fouled out, only three reserves played more than one minute. It continued a trend from other close games against VCU and USC and Purdue and UAB and even Gardner-Webb. Across the Big 12, only Baylor’s starters are pushed so hard. Now, Capel wouldn’t be the first coach to ride a tight core of players to a successful season. Eddie Sutton, among others, did it for years. But this was the year Capel supposedly could count on his depth, a point repeated often in the preseason. Once the games started, however, the rotation quickly revealed a familiar, limited look. OU’s schedule has been challenging, no doubt, with fewer clear-the-bench opportunities. But there’s also a sense, read between the lines in Capel’s words, that the reserves may not be earning time on the floor. "I’ve been happy with what Cade has done for us,” Capel said. "Omar has been solid for us. "We want to be able to get more from Ryan Wright, Orlando Allen, Ray Willis, Kyle Cannon. Those guys have to be able to give us more and practice better.” Capel, too, wants his reserves to define themselves by what they can offer in addition to scoring. "The thing is,” Capel said, "so many players — and so many people, not just players, but people in their lives — determine a player’s worth by points. And we don’t need these guys to be worried about points. "We want them to be worrying about defending and playing with energy and executing. If they do that, some of them are good offensive players and they will score.” Griffin averages a team-high 32.7 minutes. And much of his time on the floor has been taxing, spent battling double-teams and physical play. It won’t get any easier in the Big 12. The Sooner big man enjoyed his rare bench time Saturday and should get more tonight, with struggling Maryland Eastern Shore in Norman to close the non-conference schedule. "Having those guys be able to come in and give other guys a breather and give them a rest, for us to not skip a beat when they come in, is very important,” Griffin said. It’s important, too, to keep Griffin and the rest of the Sooner starters fresh for March, although it should be noted that Griffin is playing half as many games as he would have as a rookie in the NBA. OU’s reserves will be needed the next two months. The Sooners can only hope they’ll be ready.
No. 4 Oklahoma vs. Maryland Eastern Shore
→When: 7 tonight →Where: Lloyd Noble Center, Norman. →Radio: KOKC-AM 1520 →TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37) Three things to know →Eastern Shore will be facing its second Big 12 foe in three days after losing 88-56 at Nebraska on Saturday. →The Hawks haven’t won a road game since March 3, 2007. →Teams from the MEAC are 0-7 overall against the Big 12 this season. Starting lineups
|Maryland Eastern Shore (1-8)|