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March 20, 2013

Sooners need role players to take lead in tourney

CHICKASHA — The NCAA tournament is when game planning becomes more art than science. Teams that have never met converge for must-win games, but there’s a limited amount of time to study opponents.

More often than not, those game plans hinge on halting a team’s leading scorer and hoping for the best. OU’s Romero Osby, who is averaging 15.7 points a game, will find that out Friday night when the 10th-seeded Sooners (20-11) meet seventh-seeded San Diego State at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

“We’re putting so much on Ro right now and he’s been so constant. He’s the one guy who hasn’t taken a possession off all year. He’s the guy other guys look to for leadership and strength,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “Any time someone else can step up, it helps him a lot.”

Advancing typically comes down to the team’s Nos. 2, 3 and 4 scoring options. They’re the ones who tend to get more open looks than they got in conference play.

The Sooners have won an NCAA tournament game since beating Syracuse in the Sweet 16 in 2009. That was the third game in a dominant run from power forward Blake Griffin. He averaged 28.5 points in four tournament games.

However, the win over the Orange was ignited by Tony Crocker, who was no better than OU’s third scoring option going off for 28 points.

The same thing happened in the 2008 tournament. It wasn’t Griffin who led the way in a 72-64 victory over St. Joseph’s in the first round. It was senior guard David Godbold who scored a game-high 25 points.

Performances like those are the wild cards that often determine winning from losing.

The Sooners have scorers around Osby capable of having big games. Steven Pledger, who is averaging 11.8 points, has scored 18 or more points in five of the Sooners’ last eight outings.

Amath M’Baye, who is averaging 10.1 points, has topped 15 seven times this season. Even Cameron Clark, who hasn’t started a game all season, is coming off a 17-point performance against Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament last week.

If the attention on them is decreased, they have to take advantage.

Pledger was a huge key in OU’s February run to get into the NCAA tournament. Nevertheless, the stat sheet says he’s only averaging a little over double-digits. Point guard Sam Grooms will enter the NCAA tournament averaging 5.1 points a game. However, he’s averaging 12.3 over the last eight games.

How much attention does that warrant?

“It’s something I’ve thought about. We’re about to play teams that don’t really only have an idea for what I can do,” Pledger said. “They have a thought, but they haven’t seen me up close.”

Osby is going to have the Aztecs’ undivided attention on every possession. None of OU’s secondary scorers can afford to be passive.

They must take advantage of the opportunities.

“It all has to do with being aggressive,” Clark said. “As long as we’re aggressive, good things happen.”

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