A few years ago, the Oklahoma basketball program was in a very dark place. The departure of Blake Griffin and a coach with players not performing up to their Rivals rating made Sooner fans turn away from the Lloyd Noble Center.
Things have dramatically changed.
Lon Kruger entered Oklahoma’s program with a lot of promise. A coaching mastermind, Kruger turned OU around and made them in to a group to be reckoned with in the Big 12. Maybe the country.
Last night was a sign of change. Good change.
Fans packed inside the Lloyd Noble Center and gladly put on the white t-shirts on the backs of their seats as if it were an Oklahoma City Thunder playoff game.
It wasn’t Chesapeake Arena loud, but it sure felt like it with a rabid student section cheering on its school and fans wanting to see OU take down their biggest instate rival.
A few years ago, Oklahoma was a team considered a Big 12 road bump, but now is now becoming a Big 12 contender.
Kruger’s crew delivered on the grandest stage of the college basketball regular season with ESPN’s Big Monday game against the eighth-ranked team in the country.
The Sooners did not play perfect. They were far from it.
Missed free throws made you worry if it would ultimately bite the Sooners in the end. Phil Forte III’s hot three-point shooting gave Oklahoma State a bit of hope. And a quiet game from Cameron Clark makes you wonder how the Sooners won by twelve.
However, OU pulled together big runs. They led the Cowboys by as many as 17 at one point. And Oklahoma fans could taste victory when Jordan Woodard a hit three with under three minutes to go to give the squad a ten point cushion heading in to the final stretch.
Oklahoma State experienced foul trouble, which cost them the game.
Le’Bryan Nash, Stevie Clark, and Kamari Murphy all fouled out for the Pokes. Even Marcus Smart was one foul away from a trip to the bench for the rest of the night.
To call it a bad night for the Cowboys would be an understatement. Not that they couldn’t shoot the ball, they put up 76 on the Sooners defense.
However, their lack of size was blatant. Ryan Spangler pulled down 17 rebounds, it was almost unfair.
Oklahoma State found its way to the basket plenty of times, but Spangler and D.J. Bennett and Clark are the type of defenders to alter shots and not allow the looks the Cowboys look for every game.
It was only OSU’s fourth loss of the season, but a team like Oklahoma gives the Cowboys a huge match-up problem. Yes, Marcus Smart is a highly-touted NBA prospect and OU talent-wise does not have a guy of Smart’s caliber. However, he could not deliver in Norman.
Oklahoma’s overall team effort is what’s making the difference. It’s what makes you wonder if they can contend with the Kansas’ of the world, who beat the Sooners by seven a few weeks ago.
The resumé for OU is impressive, though. Wins over Iowa State, Baylor, and now Oklahoma State show they can compete with some of the Big 12’s best. They tripped up against Kansas State in Manhattan, but a win in Austin is looking more and more impressive.
OU has a lot of basketball left to play. It’s not time to pick out a space in the rafters for a Big 12 Championship banner or a Final Four appearance, but it’s time to start believing in this team.
The chants of “Little Brother” and “Just Like Football” showed student support unheard of for a while. Duplicating that atmosphere for upcoming home games like Texas, Baylor, and Kansas State would serve the team well.
OU basketball is good again, and after last night, hopefully more people are taking notice. This is a fun team, and even if they don’t hoist any trophies this season, four starters should be returning for their junior and sophomore years.
Oklahoma flexed its muscle Monday night. The LNC was rocking like never before. And with March right around the corner, it’s only a matter of time before we see where this Sooner team can land and finish in the Big Dance.