Oklahoma Sooners and Iowa State set for winner-take-all showdown

The regular season provided two instant classics. Round 3 is for bragging rights and another step toward the Big 12 Championship.

Sooners Illustrated will present three things to watch before every men’s basketball game during the 2015-16 season.

No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners (24-6) vs. No. 6 Iowa State Cyclones (21-10)

TV/Radio: ESPNU/107.7 FM

Time: 8 p.m.

Series: Oklahoma, 114-85

Spangler’s redemption

Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler might not have re-watched the final seconds of the Big 12 Championship semifinal last year, but he sure won’t forget it. Feeling rushed as the seconds ticked away, Spangler hurried a late lay-up that didn’t fall.

It would have sent Oklahoma and Iowa State into a likely overtime. Instead, it sent Iowa State into the championship game and eventually a second-straight tournament title. He’d hit that reverse lay-up 99 percent of the time in his basketball career, but this time, it just slipped out of his hand.

“I don’t think about it in a negative way,” Spangler said. “I think about it as a positive. I owe these guys something. I let them get to the championship. They earned the championship once they got there, but I let them continue their season at that point. It makes me want to play harder every time I play them.”

After the loss last year, Spangler was nearly inconsolable. He couldn’t talk to the media and sat in front of his locker with a towel over his head. Spangler still feels sick to his stomach when he thinks about it.

He wants another shot at the Cyclones.

“It’s big time,” Spangler said. “I’m going to go out there and play as hard as I can. I don’t care if I score a lot. I don’t care if I score zero points, as long as we win. As a leader of this team, I have to make sure I start doing the little things that we haven’t been doing lately.”

Once more, for old-time’s sake

The names have become very familiar for anyone partaking in the Iowa State-Oklahoma rivalry over the last few years: Buddy Hield, Ryan Spangler, Monte Morris, Georges Niang. The cast has changed slightly over the last three seasons, but the main characters remain the same.

The two teams have split every regular season series over the last three years, and the last five meetings have a combined scored of 393-392.

“Both teams are fighting for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament,” Spangler said. “This will help both of us. On top of that, we’ve battled the last three or four years. So, we want to go out on top.”

It’s also likely the final meeting between Hield and Niang, a pair of fierce competitors who have developed a serious friendship over the years, although Hield said he’s not sending out texts or tweets before games this season.

Niang is a tough match-up for most teams, but Hield is ready for the final challenge.

“He’s probably the best and worst for anyone to guard,” Hield said. “He can shoot it. He can post up. He’s just so skilled. He’s a tough matchup in college basketball. You have to just try and make it tough on him and be a pest on defense a little bit. I’m sure coach has a good plan for us to do to knock him down there. We just have to be ready and execute.”

Going on the road for the tournament

It might be considered a neutral site game on paper, but nobody will be fooled into thinking it’s an even playing field – especially not the Sooners. There’s a reason Iowa State has won back-to-back Big 12 Championships in Kansas City.

The Sprint Center becomes Hilton South every early March. And when it’s not dominated by Cyclones’ fans, it might as well be Phog Allen East. But first, the Sooners have to deal with Iowa State.

“It’s like being the underdog,” Oklahoma point guard Jordan Woodard said. “In a road game in the Big 12, you always feel like you’re the underdog.”

With Kansas and Iowa State playing in different brackets, there’s potential for even more Cyclones’ fans to buy available tickets. The Sooners would only meet Kansas in the championship game, when Jayhawks’ fans would have plenty of time to scalp the entire arena.

Of Oklahoma’s six losses this season, five were in true road games. Oklahoma lost only once at home and never at a neutral site. The Sooners finished the season 7-5 on the road but 4-5 on the road in Big 12 play. Facing the crowd in Kansas City is always a little bit different than a normal road game, though.

Oklahoma believes it is ready.

“We know what it takes to win,” Spangler said. “We were in that game. It’s not going to matter. We’ve played them in some tough places.”

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