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Oklahoma Builds Lead Early, Tops Arizona 79-62

OU Men's Basketball OU Men's Basketball

Originally Published: Dec 6, 2009 11:58 PM CDT

Oklahoma Sports Staff & Wire Reports

NORMAN, Oklahoma -- Less than 90 seconds into his first road game as Arizona's coach, Sean Miller had a feeling his team was in trouble. His assessment turned out to be exactly right.

Willie Warren scored 25 points, and Oklahoma relied on strong 3-point shooting to build an early lead on its way to a 79-62 victory against Arizona on Sunday night.

“I thought Willie was terrific,” said head coach Jeff Capel. “He added it all.”

Capel said he was impressed by Warren’s performance, noting he had faced similar struggles early last season.

“All year he had been doing a good job of driving and getting fouled, but he was struggling from behind the arch,” Capel said. “It was very similar to last year how he started?but it was good to see him make some plays.”

Tiny Gallon added 14 points and Tony Crocker scored 13 as the Sooners (5-3) opened a double-digit lead in the first 8 minutes and never trailed.

Miller burned a timeout only 1 minute, 29 seconds into the game with the Wildcats down 3-0 but he already sensed that his young team -- with only one junior and one senior -- wasn't ready to play in an opponent's home arena for the first time.

"That's the most helpless feeling you have as a coach. It's not something you're going to correct anytime soon," Miller said. "It's confidence, it's togetherness, it's toughness. It's players that have been there before, and we don't have a lot of them."

Senior Nic Wise scored 15 points and junior Jamelle Horne had 13 points for the Wildcats (3-4) in their third straight loss. Arizona committed 17 turnovers, which led to 21 points for the Sooners.

"Sometimes when you lose, confidence starts to become a part of the problem," Miller said. "When I looked at our team in the first half, I saw some guys -- quite frankly -- that they had that look that you as a coach, you say, 'Uh oh.'

"At the same time, I don't want to take anything away from Oklahoma's performance, but Oklahoma didn't beat an excellent basketball team tonight. They beat a team that has a long way to go that's really trying to find themselves."

The Sooners faced the same scenario two weeks ago in their first road game, when they never led in an 82-69 loss at VCU. After a three-game losing streak, coach Jeff Capel has been able to tweak his rotation -- which prominently features three freshmen -- and place a new emphasis on defense for back-to-back wins over Arkansas and Arizona.

The catalyst for Oklahoma's turnaround? "We lost. We lost three in a row," Capel said. "We've been talking about it from day one, but I think our guys thought that we could just come out and outscore people."

Now, the Wildcats are doing the same kind of soul searching.

The Sooners attempted 12 of their first 19 shots from 3-point range and made five to take control.

Warren and Cade Davis hit back-to-back 3-pointers to open the game, and Gallon put back Crocker's miss to finish a 14-2 run that gave the Sooners a 27-11 lead. Arizona never got closer than 10 after that.

"We're elevating our play," Warren said. "Tiny's being aggressive. I'm attacking from the jump instead of wasting time and waiting until the second half when it's too late and we're down 13 or 14. It's helping us a lot."

At that juncture, Miller thought his players were "just plain hoopin"' instead of sticking with the Wildcats' offensive system.

"Our offense was just stagnant," Wise said. "We ran plays and when they didn't work out, we'd just stand there and wait for somebody to make a play. That's something you can't do on the road. You've got to make something happen."

Gallon scored in the lane to give Oklahoma a 20-point lead on its first possession after halftime, and Crocker had a 3-pointer and an alley-oop dunk to bookend a 13-2 Sooners run in the second half that extended the lead to 59-33.

“For us, this was another step, a step in the right direction,” Capel said. “Hopefully we can keep it going.”

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