By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Humbling experiences have different effects on teams. Some shy from situations where their pride is truly put on the line. Others want a chance to redeem themselves.
Which side of the line Oklahoma falls on should be revealed at 3 p.m. today when it faces No. 3 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. It will be the season’s first meeting between the programs, but it will mark the third time this season the Sooners have met a team that is considered elite.
The second was last Saturday’s 69-60 loss to No. 11 Kansas State. The first, however, was Nov. 23 against No. 10 Gonzaga. The 72-47 loss to the Bulldogs was a learning experience in every sense.
“We talked about it afterwards and we just wanted to learn from it,” OU forward Romero Osby said. “The one thing that we learned was that the elite teams are physical on both ends of the court, and they do a good job executing their sets and being hard and tough. We took all that from that game and we’re a lot better now than we were then.”
The Sooners (14-3, 4-1 Big 12) have shown signs of serious growth since that 25-point loss in Orlando, Fla. After all, they are in a three-way tie with Kansas State and Baylor for second place in the Big 12 Conference.
Nevertheless, if you want to be considered a serious contender in this league, you must be able to go toe-to-toe with the Jayhawks (17-1, 5-0).
OU found out in November it was nowhere near that level. Gonzaga exposed that early and often. There wasn’t a facet of the game where OU wasn’t bested. It was a mental and physical beating that some teams have a difficult time recovering from.
The Sooners did recover. In fact, they’ve been a better team since. There’s been obvious growth in the time since. Junior forward Amath M’Baye and guards Buddy Hield, Je’lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins will all play in their 18th game as Sooners today. The Gonzaga game was their fourth. Fourteen games put teams in a lot of situations and countless opportunities to grow.
“When you have so many freshmen playing big-time minutes; five games is a lot of time for them to improve. They’ve played in a lot of games and it’s given them time to pick up on stuff. The Gonzaga game was a long time ago,” M’Baye said. “I think we played pretty good against a Top 15 team in Kansas State, and I think we should be able to show pretty good production against Kansas.”
It won’t be easily definable in points. The lesson OU needed to learn from that Gonzaga game was the toughness required to stay in games against really good teams.
The Sooners have lost three games, but they haven’t allowed anyone to run away and hide, despite bad shooting nights or anything else that didn’t go their way.
It takes a certain toughness to beat elite teams. OU didn’t have it in November, but two months have passed.
“We’re much improved over that time — a lot of teams in the country are. That was, what, a couple months ago almost. I think we learned a lot from that ball game,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “Gonzaga is a big physical team. We got pushed around quite a bit. We came out of that game realizing we’ve got to be a lot more physical, a lot more aggressive. I think we’ve made progress in that area.”
The Sooners have. Today, they’ll find out how far they’ve advanced.
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