MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

OU

March 8, 2014

Sooners out to wrap up second

By John Shinn

CNHI News Service

NORMAN — The 15 highest scoring games in Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins’ career have all occurred in the last 27 games. The 10.8 points he averages a game have been essential to his team’s surprising run this season, so have his 4.0 rebounds a game.

Yet his biggest impact — especially in the second half of the Big 12 Conference season — has come on the other end of the floor. Cousins took it upon himself to become the backcourt’s defensive leader and typically lock onto opponents’ best perimeter player or point guard.

“He starts if off,” OU forward Ryan Spangler said of Cousins.

The 23rd-ranked Sooners (22-8, 11-6 Big 12) can put a ribbon around second place in the conference with a win against TCU (9-20, 0-17) at 3 p.m. today and Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas.

On paper, it should be a game OU wins — perhaps easily. That all comes down to effort.

The Horned Frogs have won’t a conference game in 364 days. The last time was the 2013 regular-season finale. OU went down to Fort Worth and went through the motions for a half and suffered a 70-67 loss. OU suffered a similar loss on Feb. 12 when Texas Tech shocked it at Lloyd Noble Center.

But OU has changed since then and Cousins deserves a lot of the credit.

“He had the recognition that someone needed to take more ownership than everyone else; someone has to lead the way,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “I thought at the point when Isaiah did that, not that he did that by the numbers, I just thought he evolved into that person on the perimeter like Ryan did inside. The two of them gave us a higher expectation than we had earlier. I think the results have been better since then.”

The Sooners have won four of five since that loss to the Red Raiders. The only loss during the stretch was at No. 8 Kansas. Yet, OU was in that game until the end before falling 83-75.

The two wins over Texas and West Virginia that have followed featured a more defensive-minded team.

Kruger and his staff always believed Cousins possessed vast potential. Above all else the lanky, 6-foot-4 guard could be an elite defender.

“He’s got the whole package to be an outstanding defensive player — the length, the athleticism, the competitiveness, the pride — all the stuff that goes into wanting to get a stop,” Kruger aid. “He had pretty good starting point in terms of that frame and explosiveness.”

The competitiveness and the pride, however, are the difference. Scoring points relies execution and confidence. Defense depends on desire, intelligence and toughness.

Cousins, a native of White Plains, N.Y., grew up understanding defense was part of the game.

“There were a lot of good guards that I played with all the time. You just can’t get embarrassed. I feel like I don’t want to be that one getting embarrassed because I didn’t put enough effort into defense,” he said.

That mentality is something OU has needed this season. Spangler’s ability to get tough rebounds gave it an edge it lacked last season. Having a guard committed to making life miserable for opposing guards sharpens it.

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