By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — There was no sulking at Oklahoma’s practice on Monday. The first day back on the court wasn’t the time to think about the heartache from Saturday’s gut-wrenching loss at Oklahoma State.
The future was all that mattered.
“Guys have done a good job all year of just focusing on the next ballgame, which you have to do,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “It was a tough loss when you lead a game most of the way and you were in shape to finish and you don’t, it hurts a bit more. It’s part of the game. There’s going to be games like that through the year and the key is bouncing back from those and playing better than you did in the previous one.”
The next one comes at 6 tonight when OU (16-8, 7-5 Big 12) faces Texas Tech (9-14, 2-10) at United Spirit Arena in Lubbock, Texas.
This one and the next five to close the regular season will ultimately decide whether the Sooners are worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid, and it’s not a secret. Then again, neither is the fact that teams’ energy levels sink in the final weeks of the regular season.
“Everyone is tired and everyone is running on fumes. The energy and effort comes down to being tough at the end of the year,” OU forward Romero Osby said. “Everyone is tired, so there isn’t one person who can use that as an excuse. We have to be ready for it.”
That’s where the challenge comes from tonight. What also ended over the weekend were the regular-season games OU could win in upset fashion.
The remaining six games on OU’s schedule feature just two teams with winning conference records — Baylor on Saturday at Lloyd Noble Center and Iowa State at home March 2. Both are 7-5 in the league.
The Red Raiders, Texas (Feb. 27 in Austin), West Virginia (March 6 at Lloyd Noble Center) and TCU (March 9 in Fort Worth) are a combined 12-37.
All are very winnable games. OU’s chance to make a serious push up the Big 12 standings and secure that elusive NCAA Tournament berth has arrived.
OU can’t afford to sleepwalk through any of them, especially today’s game.
The Sooners know how hard it’s been to win at Texas Tech. They haven’t won there since 2009. Last year’s team seemed to hit rock bottom when it fell 65-47 at United Spirit Arena. It was Texas Tech’s only conference victory last year.
“I still haven’t won there,” OU senior guard Steven Pledger said. “We just have to go and do our thing and handle our business.”
The final push starts today. OU has to prove it’s worthy of the position it’s put itself in.
“It’s the first time in a while we’ve been significant to get a postseason berth,” Osby said. “If that doesn’t raise your energy level, I don’t know what else would. We have the opportunity every time we go on the court to do something we haven’t done in a while. We have to have energy all the time. That should be motivation enough to draw from and be prepared for these games.”