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March 14, 2014

Sooners hope for a high seed after disappointing Big 12 tourney

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The locker room was quiet. Almost no one was talking.

Only those who were being asked questions by reporters spoke. There was no mistaking the somber mood on Thursday night.

The17th-ranked Sooners had high hopes of walking into the Sprint Center and contending for the Big 12 tournament title and maybe earning a coveted No. 4 or even No. 3 seed in next week's NCAA tournament.

Armed with the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tourney, owning a 7-1 record against their side of the bracket and having won their last three games in a row, they were in the best position an Oklahoma Lon Kruger team had ever been in to compete with the best in the league.

But the Sooners didn't make it past their first game in the tournament for the third consecutive year.

Indeed, Kruger's Sooners squads are a combined 0-4 in postseason play. They limped into the NCAA tournament last year, and now have to hope the NCAA selection committee can look past a 78-73 loss to Baylor and still reward them with a high seeding.

OU dug itself a hole in the first half of that game and it proved too deep to climb out of, though Kruger found some solace in how his team competed down 16 at halftime against the Bears' zone defense.

"The second half, most teams are going to compete like crazy when you dig yourselves a hole," he said. "Our guys did that. I thought they were more active defensively the second half. I thought it got a little frantic there defensively, didn't quite change gears."

That was the thing. Oklahoma never looked like it could find that next gear that could put them over the top when the game was close.

Still, Kruger doesn't think it will affect their momentum heading into next week.

"I think, if anything, we should have more focus on how we have to play and what we have to do and learn from this game," he said.

The Sooners had beaten the Bears twice before the tournament began, and senior Tyler Neal hopes the committee will take that as well as their overall season into account when they seed the teams.

"I think they normally do a good job of looking at the full body of work, and obviously they don't have anything against any one school," Neal said. "The latest game is big factor in seeding, but regardless of where we're seeded we know that we'll have to go out and play a little better than what we did."

Kruger isn't so much concerned about where the Sooners might be seeded in the big dance come Sunday as much as what team they might be matched up against. He conceded that might matter more in most years.

"Certain matchups might be size or a pressing team or depending on what teams are comfortable with or not comfortable with," he said. "The number in front of a name this year is maybe, because of the great balance and the depth of teams in the country, may not be quite as significant as other years.

"But regardless, we've got to line up and win some battles and play better than we did tonight."

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