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January 26, 2013

Elite opponents have toughened Sooners for Jayhawks

NORMAN — Humbling experiences have different effects on teams. Some shy from situations where their pride is truly put on the line. Others want a chance to redeem themselves.

Which side of the line Oklahoma falls on should be revealed at 3 p.m. today when it faces No. 3 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. It will be the season’s first meeting between the programs, but it will mark the third time this season the Sooners have met a team that is considered elite.

The second was last Saturday’s 69-60 loss to No. 11 Kansas State. The first, however, was Nov. 23 against No. 10 Gonzaga. The 72-47 loss to the Bulldogs was a learning experience in every sense.

“We talked about it afterwards and we just wanted to learn from it,” OU forward Romero Osby said. “The one thing that we learned was that the elite teams are physical on both ends of the court, and they do a good job executing their sets and being hard and tough. We took all that from that game and we’re a lot better now than we were then.”

The Sooners (14-3, 4-1 Big 12) have shown signs of serious growth since that 25-point loss in Orlando, Fla. After all, they are in a three-way tie with Kansas State and Baylor for second place in the Big 12 Conference. 

Nevertheless, if you want to be considered a serious contender in this league, you must be able to go toe-to-toe with the Jayhawks (17-1, 5-0).

OU found out in November it was nowhere near that level. Gonzaga exposed that early and often. There wasn’t a facet of the game where OU wasn’t bested. It was a mental and physical beating that some teams have a difficult time recovering from. 

The Sooners did recover. In fact, they’ve been a better team since. There’s been obvious growth in the time since. Junior forward Amath M’Baye and guards Buddy Hield, Je’lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins will all play in their 18th game as Sooners today. The Gonzaga game was their fourth. Fourteen games put teams in a lot of situations and countless opportunities to grow.

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