Behind Steven Pledger's turnaround
NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma's 63-60 win over Kansas State on Saturday was a terrific win for the Sooners for multiple reasons.
One of the biggest is Steven Pledger's explosion after a slow start in Big 12 play. Pledger finished with 30 points on 11 of 17 shooting from the field after entering the game shooting 36.3 percent in conference play.
It's taken a while for OU's leading scorer to get used to the added defensive attention he has received as Big 12 teams gameplan against the Sooners' offensive attack. As defenses have started to focus on him, Pledger has a developed a plan of attack for teams who decide to double team him.
Once he gets the ball, Pledger has begun to use the threat of his sharp shooting to get himself open shots.
"I know they're going to go for the shot fake," Pledger said. "I know I can get one or two dribbles and pull up. I know if I get to my sweet spots, I'll make the shot."
The pump fake is a move Pledger has used quite a bit in recent games, allowing himself to get open looks a couple of steps inside the three-point line. The junior has made five field goals or more for five straight games after starting Big 12 play with 10 field goals combined in losses to Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma State.
The Sooners are 3-2 in their last five games as Pledger has scored at least 16 points in those contests.
Pledger isn't the only Sooner who has had to adjust his game in conference play.
Big 12 opponents have recognized a weakness in Sam Grooms' game, forcing the point guard to look to become a scorer instead of a passer. Opponents have backed off of Grooms in half-court situations, inviting him to take outside shots instead of driving into the lane.
"In conference play, they've changed a lot of things," Grooms said. "I've never been a big time scoring guy, but I understand now that I have to score in order for teams to respect me."
Yet, Grooms hasn't been as quick to adjust as Pledger, but his improvement as a shooter could be a huge help to the Sooners as OU approaches the midway point of Big 12 play and the remainder of the regular season.
Grooms already runs the team like a veteran, with 34 assists and just six turnovers in the Sooners' last five games, and he understands the position he's in, often spending extra time after practice working on his jump shot in an effort to become a threat from the outside.
"In order to do what I like to do, which is penetrate, I've got to make shots," Grooms said. "That's what it comes down to."
And if he does, the Sooners become much harder to beat.
Brandon Chatmon covers University of Oklahoma sports and recruiting for SoonerNation. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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