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Heading into Bedlam, Sooners hoping bye week propels late-season push

NORMAN — The mid-week bye simply couldn't have come at a better time for Oklahoma.

The Sooners (18-8, 6-7 Big 12) have played at least two games every week since late December, which made them the last Big 12 team to not have a mid-week game. They've also lost three of their last five games, including dropping back-to-back games last week against Baylor and Kansas.

The bye week also gave the Sooners some much-needed rest and clarity for their roster. John Hugley is out indefinitely after undergoing a procedure on his meniscus, and Rivaldo Soares remains "day to day" with an ankle injury that kept him out of last weekend's game against Kansas.

Despite the losses, the Sooners' chances of making the NCAA Tournament remain relatively strong. Most projections have the Sooners earning a No. 8 seed with five games remaining in the regular season. However they have one of the toughest schedules remaining in the country, which includes games against No. 2 Houston and at No. 6 Iowa State.

A couple of wins likely secures the Sooners' spot in the postseason. But the focus this week was getting rest before making a late-season push.

"The focus is we’re just intentional about wanting to get better this week," OU coach Porter Moser said Friday. "We wanted to get fresh. Fresh legs, fresh mind this week. We worked on skill. We worked on shooting. We got recovery. And it was about us getting better the first couple of days. And then obviously we turned our focus to Oklahoma State and what we have to do to play well against them.

"It’s a grind. But we were the last team in the Big 12 to get that bye week and it was coming at a good time. I felt — it’s every three days since Christmas for these guys. So about us. Getting fresh legs. Fresh mind. Skill work. Free throws. Shots. Reads on ball screens. A lot of skill work in practice, not as taxing on your body. Then we went the last couple days have been about Oklahoma State."

The Sooners are hoping that rest is helpful heading into a pivotal Bedlam showdown with Oklahoma State at 3 p.m. Saturday in Stillwater (3 p.m. ESPN2).

The Cowboys (12-14, 4-9 Big 12) have struggled for much of the season, and the Sooners did beat them 66-62 earlier this month in Norman. But they've showed some signs as of late, and they enter this weekend with wins over BYU and at Cincinnati in their last two games.

A big reason is the recent play of true freshman Jamyron Keller, who has scored 36 points in the Cowboys' last two games on very efficient shooting.

"I think our guys had a great focus this week, but make no mistake about it: They all watched the game at Cincinnati," Moser said. "They’ve seen a ton of clips from the BYU game. They know that Oklahoma State’s playing as good as a lot of people in this league, as anybody. They got a lot of respect for them because they played them once, and they know how good they are and how good they’re playing.”

The Sooners remain right on the cusp of an NCAA Tournament berth, something that's eluded them since 2021. Beating Oklahoma State — the Sooners haven't won there in two trips under Moser — would go a long way towards that goal, but a loss would be a huge setback. It won't be easy in a game that could be the final regular-season matchup in this rivalry for the foreseeable future.

Moser and the Sooners are taking one day at a time.

"We’ve got to continue to (focus on), what can we take care of?" Moser said. "What can we control? That’s the biggest thing and it’s hard nowadays with all the outside noise, but for us, it’s what we can control, what we can do to get better. I think the whole country saw there’s no better league than the Big 12. They should take 10 teams, and there’s no question about it. What we have to go through — there’s not a down night, and it’s just different. Just look at the numbers.

"We’ll address that when it comes, but for now, just control what we can control. That’s the game in front of us.”