By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Bucket lists are for those who have at least reached middle age. College freshmen still have plenty of time to assemble what they want to experience in life.
However, Oklahoma’s Je’lon Hornbeak and Buddy Hield have already started working on what they want to experience during their collegiate careers.
Among their goals was to play in some of the most vaunted venues.
“We want to play at Duke and we wanted to play at Kansas. Those were the main two,” Hornbeak said.
A game at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium won’t occur anytime soon, but they can check off Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse when the Sooners (13-4, 4-1 Big 12) face the third-ranked Jayhawks (17-1, 5-0) at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The excitement Hornbeak and Hield have for playing at Kansas is one of the strange dynamics of Big 12 Conference basketball. Oklahoma hasn’t won there since 1993. Back then, Billy Tubbs was head coach, but he had more success in that arena than any OU coach over the last 30 years. Tubbs went 4-10 in games there.
Kelvin Sampson’s squads went 117-59 from 1994-95 through 2005-06. A Final Four banner was hung in 2002, an Elite Eight appearance came in 2003. In 2005, OU shared the Big 12 regular-season title with the Jayhawks. However, Sampson’s teams were 0-6 on Kansas’ court. Jeff Capel went 0-2 during his five seasons.
Lon Kruger is no stranger to taking teams in college basketball’s more treasured arenas. He did it as a player at Kansas State in the early 1970s and did it once a year as the Wildcats’ coach from 1986-1990.
Ask Kansas State fans what his biggest win as a coach was and it might be its win at Allen Fieldhouse in 1988 that halted the Jayhawks’ 55-game home winning streak.
Ask Kruger what his toughest loss as a player was and Kansas State’s 60-55 loss in Lawrence in 1974 — his final game there as a player — comes up quickly. There’s no doubt Kruger has a sincere respect for the venue.
“Kansas is a premier place, a tough place and a great atmosphere,” he said.
Despite all the tough losses OU — and just about everyone else — has experienced there over the years, it still relishes the opportunity to play in front of 16,300 screaming Kansas fans.
“Everyone wants to play in front of a big crowd,” Hield said. “There’s an energy that you can feed off of. Everyone wants to be in games like that.”
How Hornbeak and Hield feel about it early Saturday evening might be different. It’s one thing to see it on television without a rooting interest. It’s another thing when you’re on the team that’s playing Kansas, and all the crowd noise bouncing off the 67-year-old ceiling is meant to destroy any chance of you winning.
Hield and Hornbeak both believe they can block all that out. But don’t be surprised if both have wide eyes when the Sooners are warming up before the game.
“This place is at the top of my list,” Hield said.
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