NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Wanting a sharp performance after four so-so outings, Brady Manek and Oklahoma produced one Monday night against Texas-Rio Grande Valley.
Manek, a junior forward, scored a career-high 29 points and grabbed seven rebounds and Oklahoma cruised to a 91-72 win over the Vaqueros in the Sooners’ penultimate nonconference game of the basketball season.
Kur Kuath added 17 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots and Austin Reaves scored 12 points for Oklahoma (10-3), which used its considerable size advantage to dominate inside against UTRGV, recording eight dunks while building a 50-32 halftime lead.
Oklahoma outrebounded the Vaqueros 48-28 and shot 50.8% from the field while matching its season high for points and winning its 17th straight nonconference home game. Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said the Sooners had “a lot of good plays made for each other, a good attack. I thought the activity on both ends was pretty good. It was great to see us get off to a great start.” Jordan Jackson led UTRGV (4-9) with 21 points while Leslie Varner added 19. The Vaqueros have only one win this season against an NCAA Division I foe and fell to 0-6 all-time against Oklahoma. Oklahoma played without its leading scorer, Kristian Doolittle, but the Sooners didn’t seem to miss him much. His replacement in the starting lineup, Kuath, had four dunks and 10 points in the first five minutes as the Sooners quickly built a 17-5 lead. The Vaqueros were within 31-26 after a 3-pointer by Varner with 6:51 left in the first half, but Manek ignited a 12-2 Oklahoma run with a pair of dunks and finished it with a 3-pointer that made it 43-28. Manek’s 18 first-half points matched the most by an Oklahoma player this season. UTRGV pulled within 62-46 with 14:06 left on a 3-pointer by Varner, but Manek scored five points in an 11-0 run by the Sooners to put the game away.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Manek, who went 8 of 13 from the field, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range. “I had a really good stretch there. The guards found me a lot when I was in the post or in the pick-and-pop. I shot the ball well tonight.” Manek’s previous career high was 28 points, set Jan. 3, 2018, against Oklahoma State. BIG PICTURE UTRGV: After facing a pair of Big 12 Conference opponents in Texas Tech and Oklahoma in their last two games, the Vaqueros should be prepared for Western Athletic Conference play, which will begin later this week. They’re also looking forward to playing at home for the first time since Dec. 6. After a game at California Baptist, UTRGV will host Missouri-Kansas City on Jan. 9 and Chicago State on Jan. 11. “I hope our players know if they play the right way we can play with anyone in our league,” UTRGV coach Lew Hill said. “If they defend and move the ball we have a chance to win every night from here on out.” Oklahoma: After two narrow wins (by a combined three points) and two losses (to Wichita State and Creighton) in their last four games, the Sooners needed a dominant performance before facing the Big 12 gantlet. The lopsided score looks even more impressive when compared with Texas Tech, which trailed UTRGV at halftime in Lubbock, Texas, on Dec. 21 before the Red Raiders won 68-58.
DOOLITTLE OUT Doolittle, a senior forward who is averaging 16.6 points per game, sat out for what Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger called a “conflict of team interests.” Doolittle is expected back later this week against Kansas State. Kuath made his first start for the Sooners in Doolittle’s place and fared well, going 6 of 10 from the field. Kuath entered averaging 2.5 points per game. COACHING CONNECTION Hill is in his fourth season with the Vaqueros after spending 12 seasons as an assistant for Kruger, six of those at Oklahoma. The connection is strong enough that Kruger – who began his head-coaching career at Texas-Pan American, a forerunner of what is now UTRGV – took the Sooners to open the 2018-19 season at UTRGV, a rarity for a major-conference program. Kruger is a member of the UTRGV Athletic Hall of Fame. “It meant a lot to me,” Hill said of Oklahoma scheduling the home-and-home series with the Vaqueros. “I don’t know if it meant as much to my team as it did to me. He is family. He is a friend. He’s a mentor. He’s everything to me. First time I’ve been back, inviting us back here after he came down to our place when we opened the arena is something that not many coaches, if any, would ever do that. It was a privilege.” UP NEXT UTRGV: Will open WAC play at California Baptist on Thursday. Oklahoma: Will open Big 12 play at home vs. Kansas State on Saturday.