Oklahoma gathered in the practice gym just after lunch Thursday afternoon with just three games left in the regular season. The long grind of the Big 12 Conference season has turned into a sprint for seeding.
Lon Kruger likes the mentality of his team, especially coming off back-to-back wins and gaining momentum. The energy has picked up in practice for a team that relies heavily on its four of its five starters to play significant minutes.
They understand the challenge at hand.
But before Oklahoma begins play Saturday in the Red River Showdown – a game that could all but guarantee the Sooners the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 Tournament – there was a little bit of film to watch, a little bit of individual shooting and a little bit of bowling Thursday.
Oklahoma got in its normal preparation for practice immediately after the game, and then decided to break up the monotony of the late season with a bit of fun. Because when March rolls around, Oklahoma needs to be focused.
“The way teams are starting to play, the games are getting more interesting,” Oklahoma forwardRyan Spangler said. “People are battling harder. These last three games will be hard. We have to go out there and fight and be ready to get our momentum going.”
It is currently tied with West Virginia in the Big 12 standings but holds the tiebreaker over the Mountaineers after sweeping the season series.
“It’s kind of that time of year for players everywhere,” Kruger said. “. . . The end is in sight. I think the energy level picks up. The focus is on finishing strong, not just here but everywhere.”
Kruger called the game against West Virginia the “best overall defensive effort of the year,” and it came from good energy in practice and focus leading up to the road victory against the Mountaineers.
After the loss on the road against Texas Tech, there was a change in feeling at practice. Spangler cut his hair, and All-American Buddy Hield made a change to his haircut as well.
There was a new aura around the practice gym.
“Our energy has got to be what we had before when we were playing at our best,” Oklahoma point guard Isaiah Cousins said. “We just need to keep that energy so we can finish out strong in Big 12 play.”