NORMAN — The ice bags were strapped on quickly after Oklahoma’s 77-74 victory over Oklahoma State Saturday. The Sooners were a tired team that had just fought their way to a tough victory. No one needed to tell them they get a six-day break before Kansas State comes to Lloyd Noble Center this Saturday.
The rest is needed, but they also knew it was going to feel even better following a win that secured a sweep over the Cowboys and put the Sooners (19-7, 8-5 Big 12) alone in third place in the Big 12 Conference standings.
“The players are fresher coming off of a win of course,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “Every team like to come into their bye week off of a win. So, it’s big in a lot of different ways.”
The biggest is the momentum the Sooners can take into it. Winning two of the last three just looks ,sounds and feels so much better than losing four of the last five. Remove the rivalry from the Bedlam game, and that was what was at stake Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena for the Sooners.
They looked like a tired team in last Wednesday’s upset loss to Texas Tech. The grind of a long conference season where just about every game has been decided in the final minute exacts a physical toll.
The Sooners did not look particularly fresh Saturday. The Cowboys, who were playing without All-American guard Marcus Smart, were better on the glass and led the majority of the game.
What separated the teams was OU’s season-long ability to be at its best at crunch time. It erased a five-point deficit with a little over three minutes remaining and ended the game with a 15-7 run and only gave up one field goal during that span.
OU believes that’s when it’s at its best.
The confidence showed in who turned OU to on the offensive end in the final minutes. Kruger called back-to-back plays for guard Buddy Hield. He found himself wide open on the right wing and he sank both. Three days earlier, Hield was just 1 for 10 beyond the arc in the loss to the Red Raiders.
“My coaches and teammates keep telling me to shoot the ball. I keep shooting the ball and I’m not gonna stop. I had some great looks in the Tech game but they didn’t go down,” he said.
That’s the coaching staff and everybody giving me confidence to shoot the ball. I felt confident and I was able to knock down some shots at the end for us.”
The Sooners are going to need that to continue. They have five regular-season games left. The next three are against teams — Kansas State, Kansas and Texas — that are Nos. 4, 1 and 2 in the Big 12 standings.
There’s a great chance to make an emphatic statement at the end of the regular season and seize a better seed for the NCAA tournament.
To win, OU has to rest up, because it’s going to take more down-to-the wire performances like Saturday’s against Oklahoma State.
OU needs the rest this week will bring, but it knows that it’s recharging for a grueling stretch.
“We have enthusiasm to play,” Kruger said. “The toughness comes from every game being a grind because every team is well- prepared. You have to go fight and claw and scratch and win some battles out there.”
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