Tahlequah Daily Press

College Sports

January 28, 2014

Sooners just keep on winning under Kruger's guidance

There was 6:11 remaining when Oklahoma point guard Jordan Woodard, realizing only seconds remained on the shot clock, had to settle for a 3-point try from the top of the key.

He missed, but underneath, Ryan Spangler, the under-sized in-state product who stands only 6-foot-8 yet plays a center’s game, kind of like Alvan Adams come to think of it, out-dueled, just maybe, the nation’s best player, Marcus Smart, for the rebound.

One of his amazing 17 boards, Spangler went back up, made it and, fouled by Smart, went to the free-throw line and made that one, too.

It put the Sooners up 13 points. Also, given the lateness of its happening, not to mention the guy he out-fought for the ball and the hoop, it seemed like a humongous stand-alone signature play. In many other games it might have been.

Only here’s the thing about Monday night’s Bedlam game inside Lloyd Noble Center. On the way to their 88-76 victory, the Sooners made what seemed like 15 plays like that. Heck, they made three or four after that.

It’s an amazing thing.

It was Big Monday on ESPN. It was a big-time game, No. 8 visiting No. 23. It was Bedlam and that’s always big. And it was a big-time crowd, a sell-out, clad in provided white. And the Sooners made sure it was a big-time team living up to the moment.

It was a night that made maybe the greatest hyperbole ever uttered by OU athletic director Joe Castlglione — spoken the day Lon Kruger was introduced at the old field house: that Kruger’s teams would fill the joint “every single game” and “OU men’s basketball is on the way to the top in the United States of America” — seem downright possible.

The only thing OU failed to do was hit its free throws at a blinding clip. It can be a death knell, absolutely, but not this night. And really, when you think about it, Kruger probably would have taken 30-of-42 charity accuracy before the tip, especially if he’d known going in that his team would hardly play even two bad minutes.

It wasn’t all peaches and cream after Spangler’s rebound, putback and free throw. That made it 75-62, but the Cowboys weren’t quite done.

At the other end, Phil Forte, the best 3-point shooter this side of Kyle Korver, his one of his six (in six tries) trifectas and it was a 10-point game. Cam Clark hit one-of-two free throws and the margin was 11 until Oklahoma State scored five straight to make it 76-70.

Trouble? No.

More plays were coming.

Woodard hit one-of-two free throws and after Smart missed a 3 at the other end, Woodard hit a 3 and the lead was back to 10. Then Woodard stole the ball from Markel Brown, put it in Spangler’s hands who was soon fouled and hit both tries.

Then Smart missed another 3, Woodard missed a jumper, but Spangler got that rebound, too, and in a moment Buddy Hield was at the line, making one-of-two and the lead was right back to 13.

Just 105 seconds remained. It was over.

Kruger’s Sooners just don’t give you a bad game. They never go splat.

They probably want their loss at Kansas State back, but that was a six-point decision agains a good team away from home. And the last time they lost at home, they were still in the game very late against Kansas, who, that night, began to play like a No. 1 seed again.

But they’ve won three times on the Big 12 road and they have this penchant for never leaving you thinking they offered anything less than their best.

The day Kruger was hired, when Castliglione lured him away from UNLV after nobody else seemed to want Jeff Capel’s old job, one inconvenient truth was the fact that as good as Kruger had been over so many stops on the coaching trail, he’d never quite been as good as Billy Tubbs at his best nor Kelvin Sampson at his best.

He may never get OU to the NCAA title game, as Tubbs did, or to the Final Four one season and the Elite Eight the next, as Sampson did.

Still, if his teams do only what the Sooners did Monday night, nobody will ever complain.

Kruger’s doing great things with a plenty good team.

More big-time crowds are on the way to watch more big-time games, many of which are sure to become big-time wins for the home team.

The Sooners played so well. Lately, there’s been a lot of that going on.

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