The Sooners were a potent offense and an elite defense with more experience in the starting lineup than just about any other team in the country. They didn’t have anything to prove, but they still proved something.
Oklahoma had Final-Four potential when the year started and dominating victories of Villanova and Wisconsin supported that claim in the non-conference season. The last 72 hours certified that the Final Four isn’t the Sooners’ ceiling anymore. With a victory against Iowa State and a triple-overtime thriller against Kansas, the Sooners proved that they are a legit national championship contender.
But they never set out to do that in the first place.
“I don’t know how other people feel,” said Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard, who had 27 points in the loss to Kansas. “We felt like we should have won the game. Just coming from our perspective, we came up short. It was a great game. I hope people realize that we’re serious this year.”
Any naysayers left against Oklahoma (12-1) could take Monday night’s game as a sign.
The Sooners went into an arena that had seen just four Big 12 Conference losses in the last decade and went toe-to-toe with the Big 12’s version of Goliath – a Kansas team that has a well-documented streak of 11-straight conference championships.
In fact, there were more moments in the No. 1 vs. No. 1 epic when Oklahoma could have won than times Kansas could have walked away with the victory: A missed free throw in regulation, two turnovers to close out one overtime period or a bad possession or two.
Oklahoma gave Kansas, a team considered be a national-title contender, everything that it could handle and more in some cases.
“I think the people that doubted us, I think we showed them that we can play,” Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler said. “It doesn’t do anything if we lose. We’ve got a good starting point. We’ll keep working and keep trying to get wins.”
Woodard proved to the nation that he could be a reliable scorer against even the best defensive teams. Sophomore forward Khadeem Lattin showed that his growth isn’t built on playing sub-par teams. He was the most athletic player on the court Monday night, in a game filled with NBA-quality talent.
Buddy Hield became the clear front-runner for the Big 12 Player of the Year and the Naismith College Player of the Year – although he may have wrapped up the conference’s award already in the first week of January.
Oklahoma had nothing to prove, but after the game, coach Lon Kruger still knows there’s something for his team to learn.
“When you get a game like this, the value of each possession, the value of each block out, the value of each loose ball – just understand the significance of that,” he said. “. . . Our guys did a good job. Everyone just has to get better in Big 12 play at this point to have a chance.”
Oklahoma will get to relive its epic last 72 hours again this season, although not in succession like this past weekend. The Sooners have proven they can compete with everybody – and beat anybody. Now, they just have to be focused enough to do it.
“There’s more than two in this league but certainly those two,” Kruger said. “There will be a lot more. There’s a lot of great teams. That’s the nature of the league. We told the guys afterwards that we have to bounce back and get ready for the next one. Whether you win or lose this one, you can’t let that affect the next one. We’ll have to bounce back quickly.”