No. 16 Oklahoma hosts No. 15 Texas in Big 12 battle
Oklahoma’s Brady Manek and Texas’ Jase Febres played negligible roles the last time the Sooners and Longhorns met.
But going into Thursday’s Big 12 game in Norman, Oklahoma, between No. 16 Oklahoma (14-8, 9-7) and No. 15 Texas (15-7, 9-6), both could not only make an impact but also keep their positive momentum going.
In the Sooners’ 80-79 win at Texas on Jan. 26, Manek reached his low point.
He’d been an integral part of Oklahoma’s offense since he was a freshman teaming with Trae Young, giving the Sooners a 3-point shooter with size who created matchup problems.
But after missing time with COVID-19 in January, Manek struggled to regain his form, moving to the bench for the first time in his career.
He played just eight minutes against the Longhorns in that first meeting, missing all five of his shots — the first time since his freshman year and just the second in his career he’d been held without a field goal.
But in Monday’s 79-75 loss at No. 17 Oklahoma State, Manek’s performance kept the Sooners afloat early and was a bright spot.
Manek scored 20 points, hitting four 3-pointers and tying a career-high with four assists.
“That’s what we’re going to need from him moving forward,” Sooners guard Austin Reaves said. “We know that he’s capable of it. That’s what we expect from him.”
Manek has started the last six games, moving into the middle instead of his usual power forward spot.
The Sooners come into the game reeling a bit, having dropped three consecutive games by a combined 13 points, including the last two to in-state rival Oklahoma State.
“The last three games were really close, down-to-the-wire games,” Reaves said. “The ball bounces one way and goes the other, you win those games. So really the main message is keep fighting, stay mentally locked in.”
For Febres, the road back has been a longer one after undergoing knee surgery a year ago and not playing this season until mid-January.
“It’s been a long journey,” Febres said. “This whole journey has been a good one, and it’s built a lot of character for me more than anything.”
The first game against Oklahoma was just Febres’ second game back after surgery, and he was thrust into a bigger-than-anticipated role after a pair of starters and a key reserve missed that game due to COVID-19 protocols.
Febres played 24 minutes, going 1 of 5 from the field — all from behind the arc.
While Febres has struggled to find much of an offensive rhythm since his return, he looked close to his old self Tuesday, hitting 3 of 4 3-pointers in a win over Iowa State.
“When he’s in, he gives our team another experienced guy that understands certain coverages on defense and isn’t going to make young-guy mistakes,” Longhorns coach Shaka Smart said.
Smart, like starters Courtney Ramey and Jericho Sims and reserve Brock Cunningham, also missed the first meeting with the Sooners.
Thursday’s game will also have a big impact on the Big 12 race.
The Longhorns are a half-game up on Oklahoma for fifth place. The loser could be in peril of dropping to seventh, which would mean a first-round game in the conference tournament instead of a bye into the quarterfinals.
–Field Level Media