First-year Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger builds teams around a gritty man-to-man defense. Sam Grooms, a junior college transfer, sensed Kruger's passion when full-scale sessions began in October.
“In practice it's as if he wants to get out there and do it with us. He's chopping his feet,” Grooms said. “But to go to zone in spurts has helped us a lot, sort of caught teams off guard. It's a great wrinkle.”
Kruger didn't use that wrinkle much in an overtime loss Saturday at Texas A&M, but it has had some success.
OU's 1-2-2 zone was a key factor late in the first half when the Sooners carved out a 34-33 halftime lead against Kansas. The Jayhawks seized control early in the second half. But for one half OU went toe to toe with a KU team that's been impressive in Big 12 conference play.
“We've played (zone) in short stretches and it's been effective,” Kruger said. “We'll play whatever gets results. We'll probably mix in more and more zone as we go along.”
During his seven years at UNLV, Kruger estimates the Runnin' Rebels played zone “maybe 30 to 40 minutes total” in seven years.
To put that in perspective, UNLV played more than 8,000 minutes in the Kruger era. No complicated algebraic formula is needed to deduce a zone was used about as often as a coach taking a reduction in pay following a subpar season.
But Kruger is relying more on zone at OU. For good reason. The Sooners are pretty good at it.
When playing a zone, rebounding can be a challenge since players don't have a specific player to box out. It also places a premium on players at the top of a zone, players in OU's scheme such as Cameron Clark, Steven Pledger, Carl Blair and Grooms.
“If the ball gets to the middle of a zone it's pretty much over,” Grooms said. “Once the ball gets to the middle I always say you turn into a car dealer because you can pass it any direction like handing out cars.”
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