Slumping Sooners get old Big Eight foe
NORMAN — OU’s late-season slide put the Sooners in a precarious position.
Not only do the Sooners get a go-either-way matchup against a team close to them on the seed line, but the path forward is much more treacherous.
OU’s late-season slide, losing five of its last six, dropped the Sooners to a No. 8 seed in the West Region. They’ll play No. 9 Missouri on Saturday.
If the Sooners are able to get past the Tigers, they’d face an even steeper challenge — Gonzaga, the No. 1 overall seed and first team to enter the tournament undefeated since 2015.
“We had the opportunity down the stretch to play ourselves into a higher seed for sure,” Sooners coach Lon Kruger said.
OU senior point guard Austin Reaves said the team was still confident after the slide.
“For sure,” Reaves said. “And I think it showed in the second half of the Kansas game (in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament).
“We’ve got confidence that we can go out and play with anybody. It’s just all about how we approach the game and attack every possession.”
Tip-off time and exact location have yet to be announced. The entire tournament is being staged in the Indianapolis area, with teams entering the tournament bubble early in the week and remaining through their elimination in the tournament.
The Sooners have lost the five games by a combined 24 points.
“The margin between winning and losing is so slight,” Kruger said. “Just like we won those games the month prior, so it’s not like we’re going to change a lot of things.”
Kruger said there wasn’t a major concern after Kansas had to pull out of the Big 12 Tournament following a positive COVID-19 test after beating OU on Thursday.
“As it relates to Kansas, I don’t know that we’re overly concerned,” Kruger said, noting the team has been tested daily since returning from Kansas City.
A difficult road in the first weekend isn’t anything to worry much about. Playing better and more consistently is, Reaves said.
“It’s a different type of basketball now,” Reaves said. “Seeding, it matters, but when it comes down to it, you’re going to have to end up playing really good basketball teams. There’s no cakewalks in the tournament. You’ve always got to be prepared so that’s really the main thing.
“Seeding, it is what it is, but you’ve just really got to play good basketball when it comes down to it.”
The Tigers are a very familiar team for the Sooners — both recently and historically.
The long-time Big 12 and Big Eight rivals have played 211 times, with the Sooners holding a 114-97 edge, including 19-14 at neutral sites.
Seven current Sooners — including Reaves — played in last season’s 77-66 win over the Tigers in Kansas City.
OU and Missouri have played one other time since the Tigers left the Big 12 for the SEC after the 2011-12 season. The Sooners also beat the Tigers 82-63 in December 2014 in Norman.
Friday’s game will be the second NCAA Tournament meeting between the programs. The No. 2-seed Sooners beat No. 12-seed Missouri 81-75 in a 2002 regional final.