By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
PHILADELPHIA — If NCAA tournament experience is a critical factor in advancing through the bracket, Oklahoma is fighting an uphill battle.
The Sooners, the South Region’s No. 10 seed, only have one player on their roster who has played in an NCAA tournament. Senior Romero Osby was a freshman at Mississippi State when the Bulldogs made the tournament in 2009. Osby admitted Thursday he wasn’t the guy to lean on for advice in the matter.
“I really haven’t tried to lecture them because the first time I was in I didn’t really play a lot, but we did make it,” Osby said. “This is the first time I’ve been a significant part of a team and we’ve made it, so it’s kind of a first for me, too.”
The Aztecs, the South Region’s No. 7, seed are in the field for the fourth straight season.
“Experience, yeah, it’s going to come in to factor, but like I said, it’s going to be the team who makes the right plays at the right time that’s going to be successful,” San Diego State guard Chase Tapley said. “We’ve just got to have that.”
As far as the experience gap goes, OU will lean on coach Lon Kruger. Tonight’s game will mark the 14th time he’s guided a team to the tournament.
“We know when he talks about the NCAA tournament we should definitely listen, especially for guys like me who haven’t got a chance to be in it,” forward Amath M’Baye said.
History won’t matter: OU coach Lon Kruger and San Diego State coach Steve Fisher have met many times dating back to 1997 when Fisher was coaching Michigan and Kruger was at Illinois. The meeting escalated when Kruger was coaching at UNLV from 2005-11 and meeting the Aztecs twice a year during the regular season and some years in the Mountain West tournament.
Fisher has a big edge, going 14-6 against Kruger over the years.
Tickets please: OU guards Sam Grooms and Steven Pledger, and forward Andrew Fitzgerald were under added strain to get tickets for tonight’s game.
Fitzgerald has family in both New York and Baltimore. Philadelphia is about a 90-minute train ride from both. Most of Grooms’ family is from Washinton D.C., which is about the same distance. Pledger is from Virginia, but his parents grew up in the Philadelphia area.
Pledger came up with 20 tickets for his family. Fitzgerald landed 16 and Grooms corralled 14 for today’s game.
“A lot of guys on the team really helped us getting these tickets,” Pledger said.
Fans are fans: The Sooners might be ecstatic to be in the tournament after missing the last three. For the Aztecs, the 22-10 season has been viewed as a disappointment to their fans. A deep tournament run is the way to salvage the season. Junior guard Jamaal Franklin gave the impression that fan expectations are not high on his radar.
“They’re going to love you when you’re doing good, hate you when you’re doing bad. All the chat lines, talk stuff about us, they chat when we do good,” he said. “But at the same time you’ve got to play for your brothers in that locker room and the coaching staff because at the end of the day we’re the ones doing the blood, sweat and tears, not the fans. They’re just sitting there cheering.”
Pep talk: Just after the Sooners’ workout end at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday they received a pep talk from an unlikely person.
Dereck Whittenburg, who was a star guard on North Carolina State’s 1983 national championship team, gave the team some encouraging words.
ESPN aired a “30-for-30” documentary on the team last Sunday. Whittenburg is currently a scout for the Utah Jazz.
Follow me @john_shinn
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