No. 23 Sooners start Big 12 play with toughest test at No. 5 Kansas's Allen Fieldhouse

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

OU's Kristian Doolittle goes in for a shot during the Sooners' game against Creighton, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, at Lloyd Noble Center.

Oklahoma guard Miles Reynolds knows. Everyone does.

NORMAN, Okla. — “The Big 12 still runs through Lawrence,” Reynolds said.

For 14 years, Kansas’ stranglehold on the regular-season conference crown has remained resolute. Plenty of superstars and accomplished coaches have failed to unearth a winning formula, and much of it has to do with what could be the best home-court advantage in basketball.

Allen Fieldhouse isn’t a typical road venue.

The raucous fans rattle even the most confident players. The ball just seems to bounce KU’s way eventually, and when it does, their opponent folds. Lon Kruger hasn’t won there in his eight seasons at OU, including last year’s 104-74 beatdown, and it’s not just him. The Sooners haven’t successfully navigated the Phog since 1993.

“It’s the same thing we’ve known for the last 50 years, [since] being a player back in the early 70s,” Kruger, who played and coached at Kansas State, said. “It just takes great focus, effort, making shots and maybe them having a bit of an off night. Not many people have gone in there and won. Any combination of that helps give you a chance.”

But while last year’s trip was a dud, the previous two made it seem like Kruger was onto something.

The Sooners put up a fight for the ages in 2015-16, when Buddy Hield scored a career-high 46 points to rally OU from an early deficit and force three overtimes. OU went on to make the Final Four, even after it finished three games back of KU in the Big 12 standings.

The real surprise came a year later, when OU, in its final road game of an 11-20 season, built a double-digit second-half lead on the No. 1 Jayhawks.

However, Kruger’s group had to use its final timeout with more than six minutes remaining due to an inability to get the ball inbounds.

“We called three timeouts in a row, because we couldn’t throw the ball in,” forward Kristian Doolittle said.

That’s the thing about Allen Fieldhouse.

It makes the simple become complicated, forcing players to think about every step, dribble and shot. That can pull apart a team’s confidence if there isn’t enough of it.

But OU is riding high off an 11-1 start heading into tonight. The Sooners have risen to No. 23 in the rankings, and they’re 5-0 in games decided by 10 or fewer points, including a 76-69 overtime win at Northwestern last time out.

Even without senior forward Jamuni McNeace, who Kruger said is “more doubtful than probable” due to reoccurring issues from a right ankle sprain, the Sooners have an experienced lineup, and the newcomers, including the Pacific graduate transfer Reynolds, aren’t afraid.

“We’ve got a lot of experience, and late in ball games, there is not much we haven’t seen,” Reynolds said. “The crowd is going to be crazy, rowdy, however it may be. We’re going to do what we know how to do, stay composed and get the win.

“I’ve played in hostile environments, going back to high school, AAU, St. Louis, Pacific. I’m used to it.”

That bravado could be helpful even if playing at Kansas is more of a challenge than Reynolds can imagine.

“It will be a lot of people’s first time playing there so it will just be something we have to go through on the fly,” Doolittle said. “I didn’t know what I was getting into the first time we played up there. As soon as we pulled up, an hour and a half before the game, everybody was sitting there. Not even sitting, they were standing and talking to us very loudly.”

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