The Norman Transcript

January 22, 2014

Sooners emerge from tough stint with a chance to keep momentum going

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — A brutal stretch of Oklahoma’s schedule ended Saturday afternoon in Waco, Texas. The victory over Baylor ended a five-game stretch (with three of the games on the road) where OU played four teams that have been ranked and a fifth — Texas — that likely could be next week.

Exiting the meat grinder at 14-4 overall, 3-2 in the Big 12 Conference and still ranked No. 25 was a feat for the Sooners.

Things should get easier this week. But the games will only be as easy as OU allows them to be.

“We have to keep our momentum. We can’t let one of these drop. We can’t look past these games,” OU forward Ryan Spangler said.

The Sooners return to Lloyd Noble Center at 8 p.m. today to face TCU (9-8, 0-5). On paper, it’s a game they should win. After all, the Horned Frogs are the only Big 12 team without a league victory, and their last four games have ended in double-digit losses.

Ignoring TCU’s results is the first task for the Sooners. Spangler’s right, they have built momentum since conference play began. Not only are they ranked for the second straight week, they moved up to No. 16 in the Ratings Percentage Index. They’ve created the scenario where they can have a pretty good seed for the NCAA tournament.

But the tournament is still eight weeks away. A lot can change in that period of time. One thing that can greatly change OU’s outlook are bad losses.

They don’t need to look any further than last season to fully understand the ramifications of taking TCU lightly. OU lost to the Horned Frogs in the 2013 regular-season finale. It didn’t keep them from dancing, but the loss did sink its seed and OU never really recovered from it. The TCU loss was the first of three straight to end the season.

“Losing down there left a bitter taste in our mouth. We know we have to play hard,” OU forward Cameron Clark said.

What will get tested above all else is the Sooners’ maturity. They also have a trip to Texas Tech (10-8, 2-3) coming on Saturday. Play well and the Sooners have a chance to zip up the conference standings. Struggle and the hard work of the last two and half weeks winds up being for naught.

OU coach Lon Kruger doesn’t harp on what last season’s loss to TCU took away from his team.

“It should get our guys’ attention. We won’t dwell on that, but it’s a reminder that in this league, if we don’t play well then our chances of winning aren’t good,” he said.

The Sooners haven’t been great of late. They’ve shot just 36.0 percent from the field over the last two games. There’s clearly room for improvement.

That’s what OU wants to see against the Horned Frogs today.

“The key is to get better every day. We’re not worried about the schedule, we’re worried about doing what we need to do to get better,” Clark said. “I think we’re turning a corner.”

If OU’s mature enough to do that, it has.

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

jshinn@normantranscript.com

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