NORMAN – The chance was within Oklahoma’s grasp. The Sooners controlled their own destiny on Saturday afternoon on the path to the Big 12 regular season title.
Tied atop the league with a victory in hand against West Virginia, all Oklahoma had to do was knock off Kansas – splitting the season series – and taking a one-game lead on the rest of the Big 12 with just six games remaining.
But with each missed shots in the first half that possibility became less and less likely. In the toughest conference in the country, championships aren’t won at home. They are defended there, though.
Oklahoma lost its control in a four-point defeat at the hands of Kansas.
“You don't like to lose anywhere but certainly you've got to protect your home court,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “We've got to find one somewhere else now as a result of this. To lose at home in this league, it's tough to get it back.”
No. 3 Oklahoma (20-4, 8-4) isn’t out of the chase for the regular-season title by any means. Although, it is now an uphill climb to try and dethrone Kansas’ 11-year run. It’s not an impossible one.
The Sooners still go on the road to West Virginia, which holds a one-game lead on the rest of the conference. The Mountaineers have lost at home once already this season. And West Virginia still has road games against Texas, Baylor and a home matchup with Iowa State.
Kansas has exactly the same slate – road games against Texas and Baylor and a home, regular-season finale showdown with Iowa State.
Oklahoma will need help at this point.
“We gotta steal some road games now,” Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard said. “It puts us behind. We don't want to get swept by any team in the league. We've got to make up this game somehow.”
Kruger told his team immediately after the game that there is still a lot of basketball left to be played. But there aren’t a lot of opportunities to make up for a home loss this late in the season. If Oklahoma wants to win the Big 12 regular season title, and it has the easiest road of the top three teams in the conference, the Sooners will have to win in Morgantown, WV, and in Austin, Texas.
Wins on the road against Texas Tech and TCU are expected, and a home loss to Oklahoma State or Baylor would be the end of any championship dreams.
“We lost a big game,” Woodard said. “We lost a huge game. But we can make it up. We're not worried at all.”