NORMAN — The one thing that defines college basketball teams at this point in the season is movement. All of them are heading in one of two directions — up or down.
As Oklahoma and Oklahoma State prepare to cross paths for the second time at 1 p.m. today at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, the outcome will be telling in that regard.
The Sooners (18-7, 7-5 Big 12) have lost three of their last four games and are coming off an eight-point home loss to Texas Tech that was their most surprising of the season.
The Cowboys (16-8, 4-7) have tumbled from a top 10 team to one that has lost five straight and six of their last seven.
One of these teams is going to gain some momentum today. Whether it is OU depends on which team shows up.
“I’d hate to call it a wake-up call,” OU point guard Jordan Woodard said of the Texas Tech loss. “But it has helped us refocus as a team and bunker down and get back to what we do when we’re at our best and that’s defending and getting out and running.”
OU coach Lon Kruger did not hit the panic button following Wednesday’s loss to Texas Tech. What he harped on was the learning experience that it presented. His team has a lot of capable scorers, but never has it been, and nor will it be, good enough to play unfocused and get away with it against a Big 12 opponent.
“We gotta get better. We can’t feel like we’re playing well enough. It’s that way for everyone in the Big 12,” Kruger said.
The Sooners were an extremely focused team when they beat then eighth-ranked Oklahoma State, 88-76, at Lloyd Noble Center on Jan. 27.
It was a game where OU was on the attack early, got the Cowboys playing on their heels and controlled the game throughout.
OU would like to do that again today. The opportunity seems to be there. OSU will be without All-American guard Marcus Smart, who is serving the second game of a three-game suspension. OSU’s limited bench has been exposed over the last few weeks, starting before Smart’s suspension.
But can OU expose the problem the way it did in Norman?
It all depends. Two Sooners who had great games the last time these teams met were Woodard and forward Ryan Spangler. Spangler scored 15 points and pulled down 17 rebounds despite picking up two fouls early in the game. Woodard scored 18 points and was a menace because the Cowboys could not keep him out of the paint, leading to foul after foul trying to stop him.
However, both are coming off unassertive performances. Woodard scored just two points against Texas Tech. Spangler had just four rebounds. Neither played more than 22 minutes in the game.
“We all just have to stay confident,” Spangler said. “We’ve played with everybody this year — even in the losses. When we play the way we typically do, we usually come out on top. We need to get to that heading into this game.”
The Sooners cannot wait any longer to do so. Bedlam is the first of the final six regular season games. It means the Sooners are inside that final 10-game stretch the NCAA tournament selection pay particular attention to. The loss to Texas Tech has already gotten the Sooners off to a bad start.
Without Smart, a loss to the Cowboys — even in an arena where OU hasn’t won since 2009 — will not be looked at as favorable.
The time of the year has arrived when the grind of the season has exacted a toll to all involved. The good teams push themselves to get better. The rest fade into the distance.
All year long, OU believed they’d be the former, but it enters Bedlam possibly one loss away from being the latter.
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