Oklahoma basketball: Win, advance, now here comes No. 1 Gonzaga

Mar 20, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; The Oklahoma Sooners celebrate after beating the Missouri Tigers in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 20, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; The Oklahoma Sooners celebrate after beating the Missouri Tigers in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports /

16-10. Monday, March 22. 541. 1:40 PM CT. 464. CBS. 27-0. Gonzaga -14

Oklahoma basketball got back to its early season form and defied the odds in winning its opening round game in the NCAA Tournament.

The Sooners, playing without starting guard De’Vion Harmon, held on down the stretch and survived with a four-point, 72-68 victory over No. 9 seed Missouri. For the second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, Oklahoma lives to see a second day in the tournament.

What lies ahead of them this year, however, is their highest hurdle of the entire season: a second-round game on Monday against the overall No. 1 seed and Godzilla of the 2020-21 college basketball season, the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

The undefeated Zags (27-0) are the overwhelming choice to be the last team standing on national championship Monday on April 5. It would seem to be an almost impossible task for the eighth-seeded Sooners, but stranger things have certainly happened in March Madness and we’ve seen that again this year.

Oklahoma Sooners Basketball
Oklahoma Sooners Basketball /

Oklahoma Sooners Basketball

Already this weekend, two fours, a three, a two and even a one seed have fallen by the wayside. And the Sooners take take some inspiration — although they’re going to need a lot more than that — from the win by No. 8 Loyola of Chicago over top-seeded Illinois as they get ready to go up Gonzaga.

Losers of five of their last six games entering this year’s NCAA Tournament and without its second leading scorer, Oklahoma had plenty working against it in its opening round matchup with former Big 12 member Missouri. Not many folks thought the depleted Sooners would have enough to get by a Mizzou team that had not one a game in its last four NCAA Tournament appearances.

The way things started out, it looked like the OU doubters were spot on.

Missouri hit the Sooners with 14 rapid points on six of seven shooting and raced out to a 14-7 advantage less than five minutes into the game. Fortunately, the Sooners settled down on both ends of the court. An 8-0 run gave OU a 15-14 lead, but neither team was able to get ahead by more than three points the rest of the opening half.

Mizzou held a one-point advantage at the half, but a 12-2 run to start the second half opened up a 38-29 Oklahoma lead. The Tigers fought back to take a one-point lead twice in the second half, but after a pair of free throws by Elijah Harkless gave the Sooners a 56-55 advantage with just under six minutes remaining, Oklahoma never trailed again.

The Sooners were led by Austin Reaves’ game-high 23 points and Brady Manek’s 19, which included five three-pointers, a welcome sign of old from OU’s three-point marksman. Harkless contributed 16 points along with 10 rebounds and two steals. Those three players accounted for 58 of OU’s 72 points. Ten of Reaves’ 23 points came at the free-throw line, including six of six in the last two minutes.

A key to the Oklahoma victory was their ability to protect the basketball and not commit costly turnovers. The Sooners committed just six turnovers, their fourth fewest of the season.

During the stretch of the season that OU won seven of eight games, including four wins over teams ranked in the top 15, the Sooners shot 40 percent or better in all seven of the games they won. They shot nearly 42 percent against Missouri.

In Gonzaga, Oklahoma goes up against a team that is averaging 92 points a game and a nation-best scoring margin of 23 points. The Zags are easily the most dominant team in college basketball this season, and when you score over 90 points and own a team shooting percentage of 55 percent, it’s easy to understand why.

Gonzaga is shooting to become the first undefeated national champion since the Indiana Hoosiers in 1976.

As a No. 8 seed in this year’s tournament, the Sooners’ hopes of advancing beyond the opening weekend were fairly doomed from the beginning with the draw in the second round being a No. 1 seed. And as luck of the draw would have it, the top seed in the West Region is No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga.

For the Sooners to have a realistic chance in the matchup with Gonzaga, they are going to have to play a near perfect game, and the Zags are going to have to play one of their worst games of the season, which hasn’t been the case in all 27 of their wins. That pretty much tells the story.

Oklahoma at least won its opening game, and against difficult odds. That’s something that 36 other tournament teams can’t say.


Oklahoma is a 14-point underdog against top-seeded Gonzaga. That spread might be a bit conservative. If the Sooners, with the roster they have available, can stay within 14 points of Gonzaga, in my view that would constitute a moral victory. Play hard and be competitive. That’s probably the best Sooner fans can hope for, unless…