NORMAN, Okla. — It may be Bedlam, but Oklahoma just needs a win.
When the Sooners kick off the Big 12 tournament at 6 p.m. on the Sprint Center court in Kansas City, against their rival, Oklahoma State, their NCAA tournament hopes might not hang in the balance. OU (18-12, 8-10) is ahead of four Big 12 bubble teams, Baylor, Kansas State, Texas, and OSU, in most bracket projections, but they don't want to lose the momentum created with back-to-back home wins.
Two of the Sooners' best defensive performances against Kansas State and Iowa State inspire belief they have broken their skid, losing 9 of their previous 11, just in time for postseason play.
“We're just trying to ride the wave,” guard Christian James said. “That passion and energy [against Iowa State], we want to keep it rolling against Oklahoma State.”
Also, OU wants to right some wrongs from the last time it faced its in-state rival.
Its slide didn't start in Stillwater, but could have ended before it really began. After a loss to Kansas State, OU traveled north looking for a sweep over the Cowboys. The nation's leading scorer, Trae Young, tallied a career-high 48 points, but the rest of the Sooners shot just 14 of 43, and their bench was outscored 28-7.
The crux of the issue was OU's 35 3-pointers. Young hit eight of his Big 12-record 20, a 40 percent rate, but the rest of the team shot just 2 of 15 in the overtime loss.
“That game kind of started a slump for us,” James said. “This team kind of lost some confidence, lost some swagger. We have to keep grinding and fight our way out. I feel like we're getting back to how we were playing earlier.”
The defeat stung worse because the two teams seemed on different trajectories, with OU ranked at No. 4 at the time and OSU unranked.
The students stormed the court afterwards, and OSU coach Mike Boyton grabbed the PA microphone to thank the sellout crowd. This seemed like a banner win, only when the teams meet Wednesday, the Cowboys (18-13, 8-10) will be the higher seed, thanks to their season sweep of Big 12 champion No. 9 Kansas.
Largely due to its 88th RPI ranking, OSU is left out of most bracket projections, but it is close, meaning a win Wednesday could tip the scales. To deliver a crushing blow while winning a season series over its rival, would be quite sweet for OU.
“Bedlam is always a game you want to win,” guard Kameron McGusty said. “We always look forward to playing them. There is always a lot of heart, pride and passion in those games.”
Add to the mix an opportunity to play Kansas and the Sooners won't want to go home early. Just playing on the first day, as one of the bottom four seeds, seems like a disappointment already, after they entered conference play with title aspirations. Coach Lon Kruger doesn't want to dwell on that, focusing on what the team can still accomplish.
“I'd rather not play Wednesday, but we didn't finish strong enough,” coach Lon Kruger said. “That's not something we're worried about at this point. We just have to line up and play well.”
Follow me @john_mckelvey