NORMAN — Oklahoma’s displayed a lot of positive traits this season. One of the best has been its poise. It has been through a lot of tough situations and tough environments and handled it well.
The 25th-ranked Sooners have shown that rare ability to play at the same level no matter whether they’re at home or on the road.
But at 8 p.m. tonight at Lloyd Noble Center the Sooners (16-4, 5-2 Big 12) will be in a different environment when they face No. 11 Oklahoma State (16-3, 4-2).
“Guys go to schools to play in games like this,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “Every game is important and significant, but when you get a little more hype, an in-state rival and the impact it will have on conference standings from a game like this, the enthusiasm and fan interest makes it exciting.”
The outside factors are the things the Sooners haven’t faced much of this season. They’re off to their best start since the 2008-09 season — a team that reached the Elite Eight. But OU has still played in front of small crowds at home and on the road.
Tickets still remain for tonight’s game, but OU is expecting a sellout crowd. Bedlam is going to be the first time many have seen the Sooners in person this season.
“I’m really excited to see the fans tomorrow and see that imagery we have in here,” OU point guard Jordan Woodard said.
“It’s gonna be a good opportunity to show our fans we have a good basketball team.”
What truly makes this season’s first edition of Bedlam unique is both teams have that opportunity. The rivalry is one of the best in college sports, but its been nearly a decade since Bedlam featured two ranked teams. The last time that was the case was 2005.
Oklahoma entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 3 seed that season after sharing the Big 12 regular-season title with Kansas. The Cowboys were a No. 2 seed.
Both seem to be on similar paths this year. The Sooners are tied for second in the Big 12. The Cowboys are a half-game back.
Four of the Big 12’s top seven scorers — OU’s Cameron Clark (17.0) and Buddy Hield (16.7) and OSU’s Marcus Smart (17.1) and Markel Brown (16.5) — will be on the court.
But for those who grew up in Oklahoma, like Woodard and OU forward Ryan Spangler — they know how these two regular-season games against the Cowboys have the ability to push college basketball in the state to the top of the discussion.
“When you come to Oklahoma you always want to play the different schools from Oklahoma and show them what you can do,” Spangler said.
The Sooners haven’t faced those kinds of outside pressures this season. Not many OU teams have in recent years. But it’s something they hope will change with a win tonight.
Nothing creates momentum like winning big games. If you’re OU, nothing builds more like winning a big Bedlam game.
Kruger, who will lead the Sooners against the Cowboys for the fifth time, isn’t concerned with the magnitude of tonight’s game.
“I don’t worry too much about it because you expect it, quite frankly. You just hope they play through that and get their feet on the ground. It will be that way with everyone, but maybe more so with the in-state kids,” Kruger said. “You expect guys to be going fast and jacked up. You expect them to throw it off a fan or two early on. Hopefully we can get through that.”
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