AUSTIN, Texas — In the locker room after Saturday night's 88-85 win over Texas, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger pumped his fist and shouted, “That's what we're talking about” as his team danced in celebration around him.
Kruger had said before the game that he thought his team's 102-98 overtime loss to Louisiana Tech in OU's final nonconference game might be just the thing he and his coaching staff needed to get through to the players.
After the win at Texas, it looks for now like he was right.
“It was a really good learning opportunity for our guys understanding how tough it is every time out in the Big 12,” Kruger said.
Oklahoma couldn't win in Austin last season with an experienced team and a 22-point lead with less than eight minutes left.
They pulled it out Saturday with a far less experienced team and having to come from behind in the final few minutes.
The Sooners didn't outshoot the Longhorns; they were dominated in the paint 42-20. Oklahoma came away with a win thanks to a big rebounding edge, solid defensive play at some opportune times and clutch free-throw shooting by Jordan Woodard in the closing two minutes.
Texas came into the game ranked No. 17 nationally in rebounding margin, beating its opponents by an average of 8.4 rebounds per game and with a lineup that included 6-foot-8 forward Jonathan Holmes and 6-9 center Cameron Ridley.
The pair combined for 12 rebounds, while OU shooting guard Isaiah Cousins and reserve forward Tyler Neal combined for 13.
While the Sooners built an 11-2 record going into Big 12 play on quick-moving offensive-minded basketball, they're going to need to play better defense and be consistent on the boards in conference play.
Kruger said as much before the game at Texas.
The Sooner defense still showed holes against the Longhorns — they struggled to defend in the paint and gave up far too many open looks. Texas shot better than 50 percent (31 of 61) from the field.
But the Sooners did more to compensate elsewhere.
Things get a lot more difficult this week as Oklahoma hosts No. 16 Kansas on Wednesday and undefeated No. 13 Iowa State on Saturday.
“We've got to prepare with great energy and great enthusiasm and focus every night,” Kruger said of the move into Big 12 play. “And tonight was a good start.”
The Jayhawks wrapped up nonconference play with a home loss to San Diego State on Sunday and come into Wednesday's game just 4-4 since Nov. 29.