Bedlam win proves Sooners are for real

Oklahoma forward Kevin Bookout dunks in the second half under pressure from Oklahoma State forward Ivan McFarlin during the Sooners' 67-57 win over the Cowboys Monday in Norman. Bookout led the Sooners with a game-high 23 points. See inside for Sooners Illustrated Editor Jay Upchurch's Bedlam review. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

NORMAN — Boys and girls, Kelvin Sampson has himself a basketball squad. Any lingering doubters better check themselves into the nearest rehab facility and sober up.

Seriously, after Oklahoma's dominating Big Monday performance that resulted in a 67-57 Bedlam victory, there is no longer any room for doubt. That's not to say the 13th-ranked Sooners are a lock for the Big 12 title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament — but what Sampson has done is carefully mold a very young team into a serious national contender.

Sampson put his motivational and coaching skills on display against Oklahoma State in front of a packed Lloyd Noble Center and again showed why he is one of the best in the game. He masterfully mixed defensive sets to keep the ninth-ranked Cowboys off balance, and devised an offensive game plan that was relentless in its attack on the heart of the OSU defense.

The Sooners, now 16-2 overall and a conference-leading 5-0, looked a lot like a championship caliber team while executing almost flawlessly at both ends of the floor. OU shot 54 percent from the field, as big men Kevin Bookout and Taj Gray combined for 45 points on 21 of 29 shooting.

OU took control with a 17-0 run and never trailed en route to its 10th straight win.

"More than anything, we wanted to prove to ourselves tonight that we can play with teams like OSU. I really think our performance tonight was a statement," said Taj Gray, who finished with 22 points and a team-high eight rebounds. "This team has really started to play the way Coach Sampson wants us to play. He told us all along it would take a while for this group to come together and he said when it happened it would be beautiful."

Just about everything the Sooners did Monday night was beautiful. They committed only eight turnovers and put on a passing clinic that frustrated the visitors to no end. OU collected assists on 21 of their 29 field goals, as the guard trio of Terrell Everett, Drew Lavender and Jaison Williams combined for 15.

The Sooners forced 15 turnovers, including 10 first-half thefts, and eventually turned those into 16 points. And while they continued to struggle from beyond the arc, they made up for it with half-a-dozen slam dunks and a handful of other close-range shots.

"It was my first taste of Bedlam and it tastes pretty good. Beating a top-ranked team like OSU, it's a good win," added Gray. "It was fun. We really shared the ball well tonight and crashed the boards. Plus, we came out with a lot of energy and we kept it at a high level the entire game."

Bookout and Gray combined to score 17 of the Sooners' first 19 points, giving the hosts a 19-2 lead just over seven minutes into the contest. Crisp passing and patience keyed OU's efforts on the offensive end, while Williams and Lavender ignited their team on the defensive end.

"You always want to play hard in a rivalry game, especially Bedlam. But we had a deep desire to win this game, to go out there and prove we have what it takes to play with any team in the country," explained Lavender. "Getting out to a 5-0 start in conference is really important, but we've got a lot more games left and a lot of improving to do. That may be our biggest key — keep growing together as a team."

If that continues to happen, this Oklahoma team could be headed for bigger and better things down the road.

"I've always said this team has a very high ceiling. We knew it was going to take some time before all the parts started to fit into place," said Sampson, who collected his 250th win at OU Monday night. "We'll take this performance and hopefully continue to build on it, and just keeping working to get better and better."

Can this team get better? Can it play better than it did Monday night?

"I think we can. There are still plenty of things for us to work on and improve on. We can't afford to sit back and rest on what we've accomplished so far," added Gray. "If we want to really make some noise in March and April, we've got to continue to have faith in Coach Sampson and ourselves."

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