OU men's basketball: Sooners to open conference play against red-hot Longhorns

Dec. 30—Porter Moser learned a lot in his first season playing in the Big 12.

The Oklahoma head coach steered the Sooners to a 7-11 conference record, his first year with the team, as the team struggled to win close games. Of those 11 losses, seven came by single digits and four were decided by five points or fewer.

They still managed to make it to the Big 12 Tournament finals despite a disappointing regular season, where they lost by one point to Texas Tech. The Red Raiders eventually went on to earn a spot in the Sweet Sixteen.

Moser's takeaway from last season?

"The thing about the Big 12 is that, one, there are no nights off," Moser said during his media availability Thursday. "Two, it's the most physical and well-defended league in the country. They're going to try to take you out of all of your stuff every night. You've got to be physically ready."

The Sooners will have to be ready this time around, too. Their first test isn't an easy one.

They open their conference slate at home Saturday against sixth-ranked Texas. The Longhorns (11-1) enter the game on a five-game winning streak after their lone stumble against 17th-ranked Illinois, which came in overtime.

The Longhorns are led by the explosive duo of Marcus Carr (17.8 points per game) and Tyrese Hunter (11.3 per game). Carr, who also leads the team in assists, ranks fourth in the Big 12 in scoring and posted a 41-point performance in his last game against Texas A&M Commerce.

"One of the best backcourts in the country," Moser said of Hunter and Carr. "There's no player hotter than Marcus Carr. [It's] not just the 41-point outburst in the last game. He's been doing it consistently, and he's shooting it at a high clip. Tyrese Hunter, we know how good he is. He's Uber athletic, and they both guard you."

Moser is confident the Sooners (9-3) are ready to begin conference play this season.

"I like this group in terms of whether it's been a loss or a win, we've come out of it with this mentality of a push to get better. They've practiced that way. That preparation and no entitlement. No entitlement helps you get confidence because you're getting better. You're practicing better. You're intentional on getting better. That's what I see with this group."

Milos Uzan, the facilitator

In the last four games, it hasn't been the freshman guard's scoring that's stood out.

It's been his passing.

Since being inserted into the starting lineup, Uzan has recorded a team-high 24 assists to only nine turnovers. No other Sooner has recorded more than eight assists during that stretch.

That's been particularly helpful as his scoring has dipped recently. After scoring a combined 26 points against Kansas City and Arkansas, he's scored just six total points in the last two games. But he's made up for it with his passing and his rebounding. He grabbed a season-high and team-high nine rebounds in the Sooners' most recent win over Florida.

"That's what stood out to me. It's his overall game," Moser said. "He's doing a lot. He's making other guys better... Defensively, he's doing well. He's making other people better. What sticks out to me is that his all-around game is getting better. He adds value in a lot of different ways."

It'll be a tough test for Uzan, who is expected to make his fifth-consecutive start of the season against Texas. For Moser, the goal for Uzan is to continue growing.

"I just think for 'Los, he just keeps getting better," Moser said. "His confidence is growing. I've seen him at Arkansas play against a high level team. Florida. Villanova. So he's been tested.

"I just think for him it's just continue to push to get better. To continue to get better. and we've got a lot of confidence in him and his confidence is really escalating."

—Up next: The Sooners take on Texas at 1 p.m. Saturday at Lloyd Noble Center. The game will be streamed online at ESPN+.

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580.