The Norman Transcript

January 31, 2014

Sooners hoping to draw more and more fans as they continue conference run

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Oklahoma knew it was in a rare situation Monday night. It was making just its second appearance on ESPN’s “Big Monday” since 2010. There was also the matter of Lloyd Noble Center being packed to the rafters for its meeting with No. 8 Oklahoma State.

Make no mistake, the 23rd-ranked Sooners noticed the increased audience during their 88-76 victory.

“It was great. It was good for the school and good for the University for them to come out and support us the way they did for an intrastate rivalry game,” OU point guard Jordan Woodard said. “It was important for us to protect home court, and it was a good win for us against a great ball team.”

Bedlam games have always been highlighted on OU’s schedule. The crowd of 11,002 has been anything but normal this season. It marked only the second time this year more than 10,000 were at an OU game. The previous was 10,779 for the Kansas game on Jan. 8. That crowd, however, included several thousand Jayhawk fans. The Cowboys brought their fair share to Norman on Monday, too.

But the hope is that crowds continue to swell as OU hits the second of Big 12 Conference play. There’s ample reason for enthusiasm. OU’s been ranked for three straight weeks. It’s 17-4 and alone in second place in the Big 12 at 6-2.

The ranking and conference standing will both be tested Saturday. The Sooners face No. 16 Iowa State (15-4, 3-4 Big 12) at 3 p.m. Saturday at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.

It will be the toughest road environment the Sooners have played in this season. The Cyclones are averaging 14,078 fans per game and that feverish crowd has made Hilton Coliseum one of the most rugged arenas in the league.

OU hopes what’s it’s done thus far can bring that kind of consistent atmosphere to Lloyd Noble Center. The fact that Bedlam featured two ranked teams for the first time since 2005 didn’t make the feverish crowd an anomaly.

“It’s good. It’s good for college basketball and good for basketball in general in the state and there was a great crowd,” OU coach Lon Kruger said of Monday’s atmosphere. “The students made a big impact on the energy right off the bat, and I know our players appreciated that.”

Oklahoma State did, too.

“You hit the nail on the head. You saw two good teams out there tonight,” OSU coach Travis Ford said. “One of them played very well and one didn’t. We have a lot of respect for this Oklahoma team and their fans rallied around them tonight, and it was a great atmosphere to play in.”

Hopefully, that will continue in the final five weeks of the regular season. The Sooners still have five home games remaining. The outcomes will likely decide how good a seed they have for the NCAA tournament. It’s been years since OU could be thinking about the postseason in January. But it’s a reality. The Sooners deserve the attention.

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

jshinn@normantranscript.com

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