Through much of this basketball season, Oklahoma State's signature in success focused on one end of the floor: defense.
The Cowboys were holding teams to low shooting percentages and low point totals and racking up wins, standing 10-1 heading into the Gonzaga game.
Since then, with OSU losing three of four, opponents are revealing cracks in the Cowboys defense.
Gonzaga (48 percent) and Kansas State (45 percent) produced the best shooting marks against OSU this season, while Oklahoma (43 percent) ranked fourth.
“We've got to get better with our defense right now,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford. “We can't just lean on, ‘We were a good defensive team. We're supposed to be good at defense.' Nobody cares about that right now. They couldn't care less what you were.
“We've got to get back to having that edge defensively and that be our identity.”
In Saturday's 77-68 Bedlam loss, OSU surrendered easy layups early, contributing to the Sooners surging to leads of 7-0, 21-10 and 32-18 in the first half.
“We kind of let them continue to do what they wanted to do,” said Cowboys guard and captain Markel Brown. “We didn't rebound the ball well, at certain times. They got good offensive shots off the offensive rebound.
“They played harder. And they did what they needed to do to win.”
Effort was a talking point for Ford with his team after the game and again early this week when the team returned to practice.
On the bright side, effort is easier to fix than a lack of skills or smarts. And the Cowboys know they're capable, reflecting back on when they were thriving defensively during the exhibition tour of Spain and at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, with hard and tough play.
“You just can't come into a game thinking a scouting report is going to do it for you,” Ford said. “You've got to compete. You've got to compete from the time that ball's thrown up.”
WILLIAMS GETTING CLOSER
Brian Williams, a starter before breaking his left wrist in a freak preseason injury, continues to make progress in his recovery and anticipated return.
Each visit to the doctor has revealed nothing but positive reports for Williams, who broke bones and stretched ligaments and tendons when he used the hand out to brace his fall following a dunk. The Cowboys guard is still mostly limited to strengthening exercises and conditioning work, although he could join on-floor workouts by next week.
Projections peg Williams' return to game action as early as Jan. 26 against West Virginia and as late as Feb. 2 at Kansas.
“At this point, it's when he feels he's ready to go,” Ford said recently. “It's healed greatly.
“My timetable is the beginning of February. Anything sooner would be wonderful.”
Williams will likely wear some sort of protective brace on the wrist, which is his non-shooting hand. Ford said OSU trainers have reached out to teams who have had players with wrist injuries, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, who had Kendrick Perkins undergo offseason wrist surgery.
ROAD APPROACH NEEDED
OSU's road woes continue to be a key story line for a team seeking to contend in the Big 12.
The Cowboys are 1-20 in their last 21 league road games.
“I think it's just a big mental approach,” said sophomore forward Michael Cobbins. “You're basically on the court with yourself. We're all we've got, coming into a different atmosphere where everybody's against you. You've got to stick together and everybody be on the same page and work it out.”
SMART NAMED MIDSEASON ALL-AMERICAN
Marcus Smart's play and impact on the Cowboys continues to gain attention across the country.
Now there's this: Smart has been named a midseason All-American by The Sporting News, an honor that rolled in Wednesday.
Joining Smart on the five-man team: Michigan sophomore Trey Burke, Creighton junior Doug McDermott, Duke senior Mason Plumlee and Kansas freshman Ben McLemore — the Cowboy guard's main competition for major honors in the Big 12.
Saturday: Texas Tech, 1 p.m.
Monday: at Baylor, 4:30 p.m.
Jan. 26: West Virginia, noon
BY JOHN HELSLEY