Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

March 17, 2014

Oklahoma puts 3 teams in the NCAA tournament

NORMAN — Rivals Oklahoma and Oklahoma State could meet in the Sweet 16.

Both are in the West Region. Oklahoma (23-9), the No. 5 seed in the West, will play No. 12 seed North Dakota State (25-6) Thursday in Spokane, Wash. Oklahoma State (21-12), the No. 9 seed in the West, will play No. 8 seed Gonzaga (28-6) Friday in San Diego. Oklahoma won both regular-season meetings with the Cowboys this season.

Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would need to win two games each to play each other for a third time.

Oklahoma's first concern is North Dakota State. NDSU is making its second NCAA tournament appearance in school history after sweeping the Summit League's regular-season and tournament titles. Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said he respects Bison coach Saul Phillips.

"North Dakota State's a really good basketball team," Kruger said. "Coach Phillips does a great job. I've watched his teams over the years. We know that'll be a big challenge on Thursday."

Oklahoma was a bit of a surprise team this season. The Sooners lost most of their scoring from a year ago, but Kruger was named Big 12 Coach of the Year for guiding a young team to a second-place finish in the Big 12 regular-season standings. Oklahoma's loss to Baylor in the Big 12 quarterfinals wasn't enough to prevent the Sooners from receiving a high seed.

"I'm really happy for these guys," Kruger said. "They've worked hard and made consistent progress throughout the year. They've played good basketball — their best basketball — in the last month of the season."

Tulsa (21-12), the No. 13 seed in the South Region, will open against No. 4 seed UCLA (26-8) Friday in San Diego. The Golden Hurricane, coached by former Kansas star Danny Manning, are making their first NCAA appearance since 2003. Tulsa has won 11 straight, including the Conference USA tournament, and Manning believes the team's defense-first approach makes it dangerous.

"We hang our hat on the defensive side of the ball," Manning said. "We want to make sure when we go out there that we're locked in and focused defensively and we understand scouting report and personnel and we compete. Our guys have done a wonderful job of that, and hopefully that will continue."

Oklahoma State (21-12) lost seven straight, including three while guard Marcus Smart served a suspension for shoving a Texas Tech fan, to put its tournament hopes in jeopardy. After Smart returned, the Cowboys won four straight, including a victory over then-No. 5 Kansas.

Gonzaga (28-6) has won all five meetings with Oklahoma State, including a 69-68 win last season in Stillwater.

"Both teams are very similar to what they had last year, in regards to personnel," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. "Neither team lost a whole lot, so we're pretty familiar with each other."

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