OU has higher stakes for this game at Kansas State
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Saturday, January 19, 2013
1/19/13 at 6:54 AM
MANHATTAN, Kan. - The Oklahoma Sooners decided something before coming out to practice Thursday afternoon, roughly 48 hours before Saturday's showdown at Kansas State.
"We want to win the game for Coach again, so he can have bragging rights," OU guard Sam Grooms said. "It's home. It's where he did all his work. We want to win this game, obviously, to move to 4-0 in the conference and to better ourselves.
"But by the same token we want to win it for Coach, too."
So Lon Kruger's homecoming remains a story. He coaches the Sooners (12-3 overall, 3-0 Big 12) against Kansas State (14-2 overall, 3-0 Big 12) in Bramlage Coliseum, where his K-State No. 12 jersey hangs from the rafters.
Unlike last year, however, Kruger's homecoming isn't THE story. It is more about two teams than one coach. The Sooners and Wildcats are fighting to stay with Kansas atop the Big 12 Conference standings, while trying to maintain some mid-January momentum that could push them into February and, eventually, March.
"It's a very big game," said forward Romero Osby, OU's scoring and rebounding leader. "For them it's a chance to show their dominance and show they're a top-20 team like they've been labeled. For us it's an opportunity to get in that category they're in. To establish ourselves as an up-and-rising team in the Big 12 and across the country.
"It would be a big win for us."
It would be the biggest since OU upset K-State in Manhattan last January, a result that made a winner of Kruger in his first trip to his alma mater as an opposing coach. Steven Pledger starred with 30 points.
"Loose balls were popping out straight into my hands, and I was just letting it fly," Pledger said. "The whole vibe of the day, everything leading up to it, was right."
The Sooners need him to feel it again. They need him to feel it better than he has his last six games, when he has made just 13 of his 43 3-point shots.
"It's been tough trying to catch a rhythm," he acknowledged. "But it will come at the right time."
OU must get Pledger going, while stopping Rodney McGruder in his tracks.
K-State has as deep a team as the Sooners. Six different players have taken turns headlining the Wildcats' seven-game winning streak.
But it is McGruder who is deadly. The 6-foot-4 guard practically beat Oklahoma State by himself two weeks ago with 26 second-half points. He averages 22 points in Big 12 games to lead the league.
The Sooners must defend him as they did OSU star Marcus Smart last Saturday.
"We'll guard him as a team, and not worry about a one-on-one matchup," Grooms said. "Steve will have him. Je'lon (Hornbeak) will have him. Buddy (Hield) will have him. I'll have him. We've got to keep him from getting easy baskets. That's what we did with Smart."
Pledger and McGruder are the individual keys Saturday afternoon. But it's team concepts that will most likely determine a winner.
"Toughness, defense and offensive rebounding," Osby said.
They remain K-State hallmarks, never mind that the coach who drilled them into his players, Frank Martin, is now at South Carolina.
"Our brand is that we guard, we play hard and we rebound," Bruce Weber, Martin's replacement, said this week. "Those things have got to be there every game."
They'll be there Saturday, especially with 12,000-plus Bramlage Coliseum fans who remember what happened a year ago screaming for payback.
If the Sooners don't match K-State's intensity and fight, they shouldn't expect the same result they earned last year.
They shouldn't expect to send Kruger from his old home back to his new one a winner. And that would be too bad.
"It would mean a lot to him. I know it would," Grooms said. "He doesn't say it, because he doesn't really talk that much and doesn't showboat. But if we win this game for him ... He'll show it eventually. He'll show it."
Rare Sooner Road victories
Oklahoma and Kansas State are 3-0 in the Big 12 Conference entering Saturday's game in Manhattan. Both are in Internet mock NCAA Tournament brackets currently. It looks like an even matchup on paper.
Here, though, is why the Sooners come in as underdogs: When they won at West Virginia on Jan. 5, they improved to 3-23 in Big 12 road games since 2010.
Here are OU's three conference road successes since Blake Griffin left school:
Jan. 5, 2013 Morgantown, W.Va.
OU 67, West Virginia 57
The Sooners trailed 43-31 early in the second half before rallying. They pulled away thanks to a 16-2 game-ending run. Romero Osby led the charge with 21 points and nine rebounds.
Jan. 28, 2012 Manhattan, Kan.
OU 63, Kansas State 60
Steven Pledger struck for 30 points and made back-to-back 3-pointers to push OU ahead for good with five minutes left. Rodney McGruder had a decent look at a game-tying 3 before the buzzer, but it rimmed off.
Jan. 27, 2010 Ames, Iowa
OU 82, Iowa State 76
The Sooners snapped their 19-game road losing streak thanks, again, to Pledger. He scored 12 of his career-high 38 points in overtime. The Cyclones led 72-69 two minutes into the OT, before Pledger reeled off eight straight points.
At No. 16 Kansas State
3 p.m. Saturday
Radio: KTBZ am1430
Original Print Headline: Higher stakes
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355
Oklahoma's Romero Osby goes under Texas Tech's Dejan Kravic during an NCAA college basketball game between the University of Oklahoma and Texas Tech University. BRYAN TERRY/The Oklahoman