Oklahoma opened the season with high expectations and it’s been able to live up to them so far with back-to-back wins. Its most recent victory, though, had coach Jeff Capel extremely frustrated.
The 17th-ranked Sooners go on the road with their young roster for the first time when they take on Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday in Capel’s return to Richmond.
With an eight-player rotation that includes four freshmen, Oklahoma certainly could be excused for going through some growing pains. However, the team added two McDonald’s All-Americans and is expected to be one of the nation’s top programs.
Following a 72-61 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Tuesday, Capel focused about the lack of maturity on his team. The Sooners, who opened the season with a 24-point victory over Mount St. Mary’s, struggled early against the Warhawks.
Louisiana-Monroe led for much of the first 20 minutes, scoring 13 points off Sooners’ turnovers before Oklahoma eventually took a three-point halftime lead. The Sooners put the game away with a 9-0 run with 14 minutes remaining and sophomore Willie Warren finished with a team-high 24 points.
“Sometimes when young people have success, they don’t understand that you need to try to have sustained success,” Capel said. “It can’t just be one game with success and then you think you’ve arrived.
“And it’s not just our young (players). It’s everyone on our team. We have a long way to go as far as maturing.”
Oklahoma’s heralded freshmen, led by Tiny Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin, were held to 20 points after totaling 64 in the season-opener. Gallon, who scored 18 points against Mount St. Mary’s, was held to three Tuesday, taking just two field-goal attempts. He also had 10 rebounds.
“It’s a great lesson for this team and especially our new guys to understand that you can’t just turn it on. We aren’t good enough to just turn it on,” Capel said. “There are very few people in the world that are good enough to just turn it on - and usually guys that can and don’t do it.”
This is Capel’s first visit to the Stuart Siegel Center since leaving VCU in 2006 for Oklahoma. He faced the Rams last season in Oklahoma City with the Sooners winning 81-70, and told the school’s official Web site he was unsure of the welcome he’d get.
“When a coach leaves, when he comes back … it gives the crowd more motivation to cheer against you,” said Capel, who had 79 wins in four seasons with VCU. “I know some people may have some hard feelings about when I left.”
VCU is 1-1 under Shaka Smart, who replaced Capel’s successor, Anthony Grant.
The Rams are coming off an 83-67 loss to Western Michigan on Tuesday. They led 42-35 at break, but the Broncos went ahead after going on an 11-0 run midway through the second half. Western Michigan shot 60.7 percent in the second half while VCU was 30.7 percent for the game.
“We have a lot of work to do on the defensive end of the court and understanding our responsibilities in the press,” Smart said. “Not making shots certainly hurts that, but we still have to be able to recover and make a cohesive effort to force turnovers and force bad shots.”
Sophomore Bradford Burgess scored 16 points to lead the Rams. He’s averaging a team-high 13.0 points.