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March 1, 2013

Kruger's Sooners must bounce back from UT meltdown

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After suffering one of the worst defeats of the Lon Kruger era to Texas, the Sooners will look to take one back against a good Iowa State team at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Lloyd Noble Center. Up until last Wednesday, the worst loss the Sooners might have suffered this season came on the road to Arkansas.

Now, it seems, the Sooners will have to win at least two of their next three games to assure themselves a seed in the NCAA tournament. At the moment, Iowa State, like OU, is slated to make the tournament, but a loss could certainly damper their chances.

Iowa State averages a league-high 80.1 points per game, and stopping the Cyclones from making it rain from 3-point land will be Oklahoma's biggest challenge.

The Cyclones lead the league in made 3-point shots with 9.89 per game and boast the Big 12's best 3-point shooter, Tyrus McGee, who hits from beyond the arc 45.9 percent of the time. They made a school-record 17 3-pointers against No. 6 Kansas last Monday.

Iowa State is tied with Oklahoma (18-9, 9-6 Big 12) heading into the matchup for fourth in the Big 12 standings. A win for either team will be a boon.

"They're one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country," Kruger said. "They stretch you out, so you have to do a good job out there. You gotta try to limit them to one shot. Long shot, long rebound, so everyone's gotta be involved."

Iowa State and OU each have quality wins during conference play on their tourney résumés, and while the Cyclones (19-9, 9-6) handily won the first leg of their double with the Sooners 83-64 last month, Oklahoma has won four of its last six games. The Sooners have lost just twice at home this season.

The Cyclones made stopping senior Romero Osby a primary objective in its game plan in the first matchup, holding him to just six points on 2-of-10 shooting and six boards. Oklahoma's starters combined to score just 26 points in that game.

Osby will have to be a factor in the paint for the Sooners to have an opportunity to win.

"Every time you go out on the floor you've got something to prove, especially when you're going against a team that's got the tiebreaker on us right now," Osby said. "I think they're ahead of us in the standings, so we're competing for one of those top spots in the league and trying to get a bye in the Big 12 tournament as well. So this is a big game for us."


After his dunk late against Texas Wednesday night, junior forward Amath M'Baye turned toward the crowd and flashed a downward hook 'em sign to the crowd. The Sooners were up big, but Romero Osby climbed off the bench to admonish M'Baye about the gesture.

Thursday afternoon M'Baye said he meant no disrespect toward the Texas players or fans at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

"It's a common sign between the two teams," M'Baye said. "You see it every day on TV. I wasn't trying to be disrespectful."

Do you regret it?

"No," he said.


Kruger spoke last Monday about the state of officiating in college basketball. His timing was apt, as several controversial calls were made in Kansas' 108-96 overtime defeat of Iowa State in Ames, Iowa, that night.

He recognizes referees are always going to be in a tough spot: What one team thinks might be an excellent call, another might believe is the worst possible call.

His solution? Call the game to the letter of the law.

"I think officials want to call the rulebook," Kruger said. "A foul's a foul. Well, you call that and you're going to be calling fouls all day -- you know we get that comment occasionally. Well, if it's a foul, call it. It's just a real gray area right now as to what the real objective is.

"Points are going down, and defenses are grabbing and holding more and it's harder to score in the paint. What do we really want the game to be? I think that's the major discussion this summer."


The Sooners finished .500 for the month of February this season, winning four games and losing four games. OU began February with two losses to Kansas State and Iowa State and managed to rally in the final 19 days of the month.

Oklahoma's four wins last month are more than they're combined win total (3) for the last three years in the month of February.


Since losing to Iowa State last month, the Sooners have found the inside the net with the basketball -- and found it often.

Over the last six games, Oklahoma has averaged 82.2 points per game, scored as many as 90 points, as few as 72 points and scored 86 points twice. The Sooners also played two games that finished in overtime during the last two weeks and lost each game.

During that stretch, seniors Sam Grooms and Romero Osby scored career-highs. Grooms scored 23 points against Baylor and Osby scored 31 points against Texas.

"Nothing's really changed," Grooms said. "Just playing better as a group now. We're going to continue doing what we were doing that week before. A lot of people of are picking up confidence going into this last stretch."

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