NORMAN — There is no great mystery for winning games on the road, nor is there an exact formula.
Oklahoma forward Cameron Clark summed it up in two simple words: “be tough.”
The 23rd-ranked Sooners (17-4, 6-2 Big 12) will play its toughest road game to date at 3 p.m. at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa against No. 16 Iowa State (15-4, 3-4).
The reasons this one rises on the toughness scale are multiple. The Cyclones have long been a dominant home team. They feed off the energy from those 14,000-plus cardinal-and-gold-clad fans. The energy and emotion to run all but the most talented and toughest opponents right off the floor.
The Sooners learned that in their last visit to Ames. They were buried minutes into the second half after an onslaught of Iowa State 3-pointers (11 to be exact) and their own inability to score. The 84-63 loss was OU’s most lopsided in conference play during the 2013 season.
But what’s different for OU in 2014 is its mental makeup. It enters today’s game with a 3-1 record in conference road games, having won at Texas, Baylor and Texas Tech and losing at Kansas State.
Those three conference road wins match OU’s total from last season, and the calendar just flipped to February today.
What’s changed with the Sooners?
One is a high comfort level with tight ball games. Every conference game OU has played — and just about 21 games this season — have been up for grabs heading into the final minutes.
The Sooners have shown a knack for elevating their play in the last four minutes of games.
“We’ve had good offensive possessions and made a couple shots at the right time. Those are the things that really make the difference between winning and losing,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “Around that 3-minute mark someone makes a couple shots and all of a sudden there’s a little margin. Our guys have made shots and gotten some stops at the same time.”
When OU faced the Cyclones at Lloyd Noble Center on Jan. 11 that was the case.
The Sooners actually trailed with a little over two minutes left and then went on a 12-0 run over the next two minutes to put the game away.
But a lot of teams can do that at home. Doing it on the road is the hard part. The Sooners and Cyclones are separated by 2 1/2 games in the conference standings. The reason: OU is 3-1 in the road in the Big 12. The Cyclones are 1-3. Both have won at Texas Tech. The other common game for both was at Texas. The Sooners clawed their way to an 88-85 victory. The Cyclones fell 86-76.
Winning that first road game has been a catalyst for the Sooners this season.
“It gave us a lot of confidence. It showed us if we played hard and would fight until the end we can win; that’s what we’ve been doing,” Clark said.
Today is the chance for OU to do it in a raucous environment and gain its first home-and-away sweep of the season.
The goal today is to make it a 40-minute fight and win it in the final minutes. It’s not easy, but OU has drawn from comfort again and again in those late-game, pressure-packed scenarios.
“When it gets down to about four minutes, we start locking in and execute on both ends. Guys have made big shots,” OU guard Buddy Hield said.
OU would relish the chance to get in that situation again today.
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