John Klein: OU's road to postseason just got tougher
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Sunday, February 05, 2012
2/05/12 at 6:31 AM
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Original Print Headline: OU's road to NIT just got tougher
NORMAN - Lon Kruger seems to be getting everything he can out of his Oklahoma Sooners.
Everything OU had was not enough against Iowa State on Saturday at Lloyd Noble Center.
Suddenly, OU's road to reach the National Invitation Tournament is starting to look much more difficult.
The Sooners stayed close with the Cyclones, who appear headed to the NCAA Tournament, but Iowa State was nearly perfect down the stretch of a 77-70 victory over OU.
"Lon Kruger is one of the best coaches in the business," said Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. "So, I knew he would come up with something for us.
"He's done a great job everywhere he has been. He's doing a great job with that team."
But it wasn't enough to halt the surging Cyclones, who have won three straight and five of their last six.
"They've got a great club," said Kruger. "They've got a lot of great shooters on that team."
No kidding. The Cyclones hit 15 3-pointers, the most ever against the Sooners.
"It seems like they were making everything," said OU's Romero Osby. "Every time I looked, it was going through the net."
As a result, the Cyclones continue to stake out a spot in the Big 12 Conference right behind the leaders (Missouri, Kansas and Baylor), while OU is sliding down the standings.
Iowa State (17-6 overall, 7-3 Big 12) would appear on target to be the No. 4 team taken out of the Big 12 for the NCAA Tournament.
When the Cyclones shoot 50 percent from beyond the 3-point line, they look like an elite team.
"We were behind much of the night, and it was tough," said Kruger.
Any hope OU had of a late-season surge into the NCAA Tournament is probably gone.
Oklahoma is 13-9, thanks to a quick start and lightweight nonconference schedule, but has slipped to 3-7 in the league. Oklahoma would have to go 6-2 in its final eight league games to get to .500 in the conference.
"We're going to learn from what we're not doing well, but we're doing a lot of things well," said Kruger. "We've got to keep making progress.
"We just need to have more good possessions."
That's not what Oklahoma did down the stretch. In fact, OU fumbled away a possession when it was down 73-70 with less than 30 seconds to go.
"We have a lot left in the season," said Kruger. "We'll keep working."
Yet, the schedule is getting thinner for the Sooners to get on a late-season surge and earn a spot in the NIT.
OU has four weeks and eight conference games left. Oklahoma's toughest dates still ahead are Monday's game with Missouri and road games at Baylor, Iowa State and Texas. But the Sooners also have very winnable home games with Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas A&M.
OU needs to win seven games, which will include at least one game at the Big 12 Tournament, to get to 20 victories.
That would look like a pretty tall order for a team that still struggles at times.
"That is a very good team," said Hoiberg. "I think (Steven) Pledger is a big-time player. He is playing at a very high level right now (14 points against Iowa State)."
OU has shown enough to make one feel the Sooners are making progress.
Kruger said there is work to do.
"We just have to bounce back and make some progress," said Kruger. "We don't have much time before Monday."
Next week figures to be a struggle. Mizzou has been fabulous much of the season, except for a trip to Stillwater, and the Sooners will be hard-pressed to hang with the Tigers.
Then, Oklahoma faces a virtual must-win at Texas Tech, the league's worst team.
By contrast, Iowa State seems to have played through its rough stretch and is rolling.
The Cyclones, since losing back-to-back games to Missouri and Kansas in early January, have won five of six and may be the hottest team in the league. They beat Kansas and Kansas State before coming to Norman.
The Sooners, who seem to have plenty of heart, just didn't have enough good fortune to beat the Cyclones.
"When we are hitting shots like we did in this game, we're pretty hard to beat," said Iowa State's Scott Christopherson, who had 15 points, including three 3-pointers. "We were getting a lot of good looks."