NORMAN — Oklahoma men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger wasn’t sure what to make of his team’s defense in the season’s first two games.
The Sooners at times have looked timid, especially early in games, apparently afraid to get into foul trouble as they adjust to college basketball’s new rules.
Wednesday against Idaho, the Sooners came out better defensively from the start and battled through some early troubles to beat the Vandals 85-65 in front of an estimated crowd of 3,250 at Lloyd Noble Center.
“It was just a whole different effort tonight defensively,” Kruger said. “Much better than we had the first couple of ballgames.”
After playing three games in six nights, Oklahoma now has more than a week before its next game and enters the practice time in a much better place defensively.
“Feel much better about our starting point given tonight,” Kruger said. “Monday, we just didn’t slide our feet; didn’t cover very well. Tonight, I thought the guys really got themselves ready to play. You hear the conversation in the locker room, and it’s about being in a stance and being ready to slide and taking away certain plays that Idaho ran.”
The Sooners (3-0) play Seton Hall in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Brooklyn on Nov. 22.
Je’lon Hornbeak, who was one of the Sooners’ catalysts off the bench, said the defensive shift started in Tuesday’s practice.
“Yesterday’s practice was mainly about defense,” Hornbeak said. “We watched a lot of film defensively, and it’s always good to kind of see your mistakes on film, and it is a lot better for a team as a whole to kind of see it all together.
“In today’s game we really held each other accountable and it showed.”
The Sooners did not get off to a good start.
Point guard Jordan Woodard quickly picked up two fouls and had to give way to Hornbeak.
Buddy Hield, who had led the Sooners in scoring in each of their first two games, didn’t score for more than 13 minutes and was just 1 for 5 from the floor with three turnovers in the first half.
But Hornbeak was solid shifting to the point, and the Sooners built a double-digit lead by halftime despite some struggles.
That all began on the defensive end, where OU outrebounded the Vandals 30-11.
Still, Kruger wasn’t satisfied with the rebounding.
“It’s not an area that we can relax in for sure,” he said. “We’ve got to get guards down in there, We’ve got to get more aggressive on the defensive boards. We’ve got to keep working on it.”
The Sooners also blocked eight shots, more than they did in any game last season. Ryan Spangler had three, and D.J. Bennett and Frank Booker had two each.
“A little more aggressiveness, I think that’s the key,” Kruger said. “We slid out feet better on the ball. We went to the ball a little bit better.”
Hornbeak scored 12 and had six assists and three steals off the bench. The Sooners bench scored 31, with Tyler Neal adding 12.
Cameron Clark had a game-high 14, and Hield and Spangler added 13 each.