When: 11:01 a.m. CST
TV/Radio: ESPNEWS/107.7 FM(OKC); 1430 AM (Tulsa)
Series: Oklahoma, 35-21
The most hated man in the Big 12?
There isn’t a doubt that the Sooners love Ryan Spangler, but he’s starting to get a reputation as one of the more hated players in the conference.
It’s not because he’s cheap or plays dirty – although he’s more than willing to throw his body around. It’s more like that gnat that won’t leave you alone. Spangler is always there. He’s always pestering.
That’s exactly the way he likes to play and exactly the way Oklahoma likes him to be.
“Those guys that play so hard and are throwing their bodies around I think always are great teammates and fan favorites of the home people but probably not so much when you go on the road,” Kruger said of players like Spangler. “But that's a good thing. That's out of respect, no question, because everyone knows how hard he plays.”
The reputation has probably been enhanced because of his new scoring touch. If Spangler, who Is averaging 10.7 points and eight rebounds per game, wasn’t scoring, then it’s likely that no one would hate him. He wouldn’t be a problem for other teams because they wouldn’t have to worry about him.
Now, points are flowing and fouls haven’t really picked up. He’s only fouled out in three career games.
“You know he's going to work hard,” Kruger said. “He does that every day so you know he's going to do exactly that to opponents and he's not going to fall short as a result of lack of effort for sure and that's what you've got to like about him.”
The long ride to Lubbock
Even though the Sooners haven’t had much of a problem under Kruger, playing on the road at Texas Tech is always tough. Just ask Iowa State.
Oklahoma has won seven of its last eight games against Texas Tech, which have lost four straight.
The loss actually came at Lloyd Noble Center, although Oklahoma did lose three straight in Lubbock from 2010 to 2012.
“Our guys certainly know that they're much better at home,” Kruger said. “They play much more effectively at home. They've played everyone tough. Our guys know that so it shouldn't be a letdown for those reasons.”
Texas Tech has won just twice at home in conference play but has only won at home this season: All 12 of its victories are at the United Spirit Arena.
“All road games are tough,” Oklahoma point guard Jordan Woodard said. “TCU whipped up on what, OSU a couple days ago. Every team plays good at home in the Big 12. Texas Tech, they beat Iowa State at their home place so they can beat anybody in their home spot.”
Not only does Oklahoma, which has won 11 of the last 16 against the Red Raiders, have to take the long drive, but it won’t be able to get much of a morning shoot around in before the game tips off. Mainly because the game is in the morning.
“It's the same for everyone,” Kruger said. “You've got to line up and play regardless of where and when and it's not a problem. These guys have played basketball in the morning a lot of times so that won't be any different.”
Don’t forget last time
But which last time?
Should Oklahoma keep in mind the last time it played Texas Tech, when the Sooners put up the best defensive performance in Big 12 Conference history by allowing just 36 points – a mark that was nearly equaled by Iowa State 10 days later against the Red Raiders.
Maybe the Sooners shouldn’t forget its last performance, rallying from a late deficit against a reinvigorated Texas squad and shunning a myriad of bad possessions in the first half.
Well, remember both. But keep the later in mind.
“That's a great opportunity to grow,” Kruger said. “It's hard to do that when you're down six with three and a half minutes to go or whatever. You've just got to keep grinding and keep trusting and keep working and then you have to make plays.”
Oklahoma, which has tied a program record with six wins against ranked opponents this season, learned a lot about itself Tuesday night – a lot about how resilient it actually can be. The Sooners had squandered opportunities like that in the past, losing all four of its games decided by less than eight points this season.
Kruger said that his team just needed to experience success in that moment and have a spontaneous celebration.
There was reason to celebrate a victory against the Longhorns. There was reason to learn also.
“You just have to keep working,” Kruger said. “. . . It was a good opportunity to grow and a spontaneous celebration like that is hard to simulate. Hard to put a value on that.”
At the very least, it’s worth one more win.