- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma has lost four of its last five games in Big 12 play to fall to 3-7 in the conference and 13-9 overall.
And no matter how much Lon Kruger and his team refuse to make excuses, fatigue has been a factor for the Sooners.
Steven Pledger, Andrew Fitzgerald, Romero Osby, Sam Grooms and Cameron Clark have played 78 percent of the team's minutes during Big 12 play. Add Carl Blair and C.J. Washington into the mix and 92 percent of the Sooners' minutes have been played by seven players.
Simply put, those guys need help.
Time and time again during conference play, the Sooners have trailed and made a comeback but not had anything left in the tank to get over the hump and win the game.
Here are five things the Sooners can do address fatigue concerns down the stretch of the season:
Help Tyler Neal regain confidence
The sophomore forward went from a scoring sixth man early in the season to only having five field goals and 13 total points in 10 Big 12 games. Neal's struggles have nothing to do with lack of ability; it's a mental struggle.
It is clear Neal has lost confidence in his ability on the court and he's thinking too much when he is on the floor. He's played more than 10 minutes just one time since Jan. 3 and he's not earning more minutes when he does get an opportunity.
Re-instilling Neal's self confidence begins in practice. Kruger and his staff should make a point to run plays through Neal and get him lots of shots (hopefully resulting in increased confidence) during scrimmage situations in practice.
Consider bringing Cameron Clark off the bench permanently
It's clear that Clark is one of the top five players on the Sooners, but the best situation for the team could be having him come off the bench.
One of Clark's best stretches of play this season was the three-game stretch when he did not start and came off the bench. Two of his three double-figure scoring games in Big 12 play came during that stretch.
The positives of Clark off the bench are allowing him to come in fresh, looking to score, thus taking the pressure to score off the starters, particularly Fitzgerald and Pledger.
Undoubtedly, Clark wants to start but having the sophomore come off the bench could be the best route for the team. And it really doesn't matter who starts games; it matters who finishes them.
Play more zone defense
Since the Sooners don't have ideal depth, OU should consider playing more zone. They've been terrific with their man defense and it is the main reason they stay in games but the goal is not to stay in games, it's to win them.
OU's starters use so much energy playing their intense man-to-man defense for 30-plus minutes that they have to be fatigued down the stretch, even though they refuse to use it as an excuse. If they played zone more often, it allows their key players to get a little bit of rest while on the court.
Have Carl Blair bring the ball up whenever he is on the floor
Grooms plays 33.6 minutes per game during conference play, joining Osby and Pledger as Sooners over 30 minutes per Big 12 game. Yet, Grooms 33.6 minutes are a little different. He's counted on to run the team and bring the ball up the court, sometimes against defensive pressure.
When the Sooners have Blair and Grooms on the floor together, Blair should bring the ball up to give Grooms a break. While he has more turnovers in Big 12 play, in less minutes, than Grooms, Blair can handle the duty of running the team at times.
Run more plays for Romero Osby
It often appears that all of the Sooners scoring load is on the shoulders of Pledger and Fitzgerald. Pledger in particular has to work extremely hard to get shots, running off of multiple screens as defenses have focused more and more on him.
Osby is arguably the Sooners most efficient scorer and when the ball is in his hands, he can be counted on to make the right play. OU should run more of its offense through Osby and they'll likely be rewarded with easy buckets and easier shots for teammates, all while allowing Pledger some time on the court without the pressure to score.
Brandon Chatmon covers University of Oklahoma sports and recruiting for SoonerNation. He can be reached at email@example.com.