By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — Oklahoma returns a lot from last season. All of its starters and the overwhelming majority of its scoring was at McCasland Field House on Saturday.
However, it was the three freshmen guards — Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Je’lon Hornbeak — that provided an element the Sooners have sorely missed.
“Those guys … they have some firepower, “ said OU senior forward Romero Osby, who scored 24 points and pulled down eight rebounds. “They can all run; they’re all athletic; they can shoot; they can all defend. The only thing they’re missing is experience. They’re freshmen and still have to learn.
“I think by February, those three guys are really going to be helping the team out a lot. By January, I think they’ll be playing like sophomores. I’m excited to play with these guys because they bring a lot to the table.”
It wasn’t scoring — Hield scored 16 points, Cousins added 10 and Hornbeak tossed in seven — that they brought to Saturday’s scrimmage. It was energy on both ends of the floor.
The Sooners looked like a much more athletic team than the one that finished the 2011-12 season 15-16. Defense is where it showed up the most. All three, each 6-foot-3 or taller, pressed defenders and got into passing lanes.
“Defense is the difference,” Hield said. “It’s a lot more intense than high school. It’s a transition from high school. It’s tougher because of all the mental work. As the days go by, you get better with it.”
The ability to guard is the path to extended minutes for all three. Practices have been more competitive because of it. Saturday’s scrimmage had a faster pace than most of OU’s games last season.
“We’re bringing a lot of intensity and aggressiveness,” Cousins said. “We like to play up-tempo and run, and you have to play D to do that. “
OU only averaged 69.1 points per game last season. Kruger wants to play faster, and that requires backcourt depth.
“The No. 1 thing about this group is I think we’ll be a lot deeper, obviously,” he said. “ We’ll have more speed coming out of the backcourt and that will allow us to push it. “
Technically, the White team beat the Red, 67-56, on Saturday. The score was meaningless; the rosters weren’t set. Players played on both teams and OU announced it will do it again 3 p.m., next Saturday at Lloyd Noble Center.
It didn’t matter what color jersey Hield, Hornbeak or Cousins wore; they made the Sooners look a little different.
“The three as a group bring good athletic ability, ranginess, good activity defensively, enthusiasm,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “They love to play and they love to compete. I think you saw today that there’s tremendous upside with all three.”