Tahlequah Daily Press

February 8, 2014

Sooners glad to be home against Baylor


— No one kissed the pavement when Oklahoma finally returned home Thursday evening from West Virginia. Some weren’t even sure whether or not they could finally believe it was true.

Sooner guard Je’lon Hornbeak admitted he wasn’t sure he recognized Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City when the team’s chartered plane stopped.

“Are we really home?” he wondered.

After a travel odyssey in which everything leading up to, before and after Wednesday night’s overtime loss at West Virginia was mind-numbingly delayed, Friday’s practice was a return to normalcy.

“I think when practice first started we were all a little bit tired, but we picked it up as it went along,” OU forward Ryan Spangler said. “I think we’re back to where we need to be.”

Of course, what would’ve given the 21st-ranked Sooners (17-6, 6-4 Big 12) more pep would’ve been a win against the Mountaineers.

The Sooners were in position to get one despite trailing by 14 points early in the second half. In spite of spending the previous 24 hours waiting on delayed flights in Oklahoma City, Newark, N.J., and again in West Virginia, the Sooners nearly pulled it out.

“We battled and put ourselves in position to win that ballgame, which is not always easy to do,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “We didn’t finish it, but we handled the distractions really well.”

But you have to wonder whether the trip to West Virginia was the ultimate team bonding experience or one from which the Sooners are going to need longer than a day to recover.

The answer should come at 6 p.m. today when they face Baylor (14-8, 2-7) at Lloyd Noble Center. Film preparation certainly isn’t an issue. OU watched plenty on Baylor Thursday while waiting for their flight home.

But OU wasn’t able to practice Thursday as originally planned. Kruger doesn’t believe that will be a major issue because today’s game is the second against Baylor this season.

The Sooners are going for a regular-season sweep. OU ignited a four-game winning streak with a 66-64 victory Jan. 18 in Waco, Texas. The loss was Baylor’s third in four games back then. Since, it has dropped four of five, including Monday’s 69-52 home loss to No. 8 Kansas.

Nonetheless, the Sooners are saddled with a two-game losing streak for the first time. Considering all the work they’ve done to put themselves well inside the NCAA tournament bubble and near the top of the Big 12 standings for the first five weeks of the conference season, they really can’t afford to let anymore games slip away.

“We don’t want to be one of those teams that starts falling down,” Spangler said. ”We need to keep winning. Once we get one or two more we’ll get that feeling again.”

Being back on the floor Friday at Lloyd Noble Center seemed to have a recuperative power. Five of OU’s last eight games to end regular are at home, including the next two.

The Sooners won’t have to get on a plane again until Feb. 24 when they go to Kansas.

“Whew!” OU point guard Jordan Woodard exclaimed. “We have two straight at home. That’s going to be good for us.”