Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger hopes his team’s experience in tight games will help the Sooners in the postseason.
Going into their Big 12 tournament opener against Iowa State in Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday, the 25th-ranked Sooners have played 14 games that were decided by seven points or fewer.
Oklahoma has gone 7-7 in those games, but they have lost each of their past four games, each by five points or fewer. During the skid, the Sooners have fallen by a combined 17 points.
“You’ve had so many late-game experiences and just the understanding of how critical each possession is,” Kruger said. “If you want to create that mindset for 40 minutes, it’s obviously more easily done in the last couple, three minutes because it really is the last few possessions of a ballgame.
“I think that experience for Big 12 teams across the board, anytime you play in a conference like this, it hardens you up and prepares you for what lies ahead.”
The Sooners (14-9, 9-8 Big 12) stumbled down the stretch, but they hope to regain the positive momentum built up during January and early February, when they went 8-1 over a stretch that included three consecutive wins over top-10 teams.
Kruger said it comes down to focusing on the little things rather than the big picture.
“It’s not so much thinking about trying to win again as much as it is trying to do all the things that you did last month when you won all those games,” he said. “Again, there’s not much difference. The margin’s pretty small.”
Oklahoma has also struggled in recent conference tournaments. In 2017, 2018 and 2019, Oklahoma lost in the first round as a bottom-four seed. Last year, the Sooners never got to compete in the event before it was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This season, Oklahoma is seeded seventh while the Cyclones are seeded 10th.
Iowa State (2-21, 0-18) has lost 17 in a row, going winless in conference play for the first time since 1936-37. The Cyclones haven’t won a game away from their home arena since November 2019, and their last win over a Big 12 opponent somewhere other than Ames, Iowa, came in March 2019, when Iowa State won the Big 12 Tournament.
“It’s definitely a reset,” Cyclones coach Steve Prohm said. “There’s definitely excitement in the air because it is March, it is the conference tournament.
“We’ve had great success down there, and so I think we’re all excited for it.”
Iowa State has won the tournament four times since 2014.
The Cyclones played the Sooners close twice this season.
On Feb. 6, Oklahoma won 79-72 in Norman, Okla. On Feb. 20 in Ames, Iowa State fell behind by 21 points in the first half before coming back to take the lead briefly in the second. The Sooners eventually prevailed 66-56.
The Cyclones are likely to have leading scorer Rasir Bolton (15.4 points per game) back after he missed three games with a sprained ankle.
–Field Level Media