The end of the regular season in college basketball signals the start of the most fun stretch of the season: March Madness. Multiple games in a day, teams fighting for their lives, win or go home. The Sooners start the postseason as the No. 4 seed in this week's Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship and will play No. 5 seed Iowa State Thursday at 11:30 a.m. CT in Kansas City (ESPN2).
The league's parity is expected to add excitement and intrigue to this year's conference tournament, with the trophy completely up for grabs. The number of close games in Big 12 play during the regular season hints at what should be an electrifying atmosphere and four days of basketball at the Sprint Center.
"Every team has the possibility of being upset," junior forward Amath M'Baye said. "There are so many even teams in the conference that it's going to be a dog fight, and I like dog fights. I think it's going to be fun."
The third meeting between the Sooners and Cyclones will determine the series winner. Iowa State claimed an 83-64 victory on Feb. 4 in Ames, while Oklahoma returned the favor in Norman with an 86-69 win on March 2. This time, neither team will have a home-court advantage.
"They're a very good basketball team, tough to match up with," head coach Lon Kruger said. "They've got a lot of 3-point shooters on the perimeter, their big guys can pick and pop and shoot the 3 well. They space the floor great. (Head coach) Fred (Hoiberg) does a terrific job of putting them in the position to make it tough on the opponent, and we've got to have a lot of energy and enthusiasm to cover."
The fun begins Thursday morning at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. For the Sooners, the goal is simple: win to play another day.
No I in Team
Seniors Romero Osby and Steven Pledger and junior Amath M'Baye were honored by Big 12 head coaches for impressive regular season performances. Osby was named to the first-team All-Big 12 squad, becoming the first Sooner since Blake Griffin in 2009 to garner first-team accolades. M'Baye and Pledger were named to the All-Big 12 third team.
The trio put up impressive numbers this season. In Big 12 play, Osby ranked first in the league with 109 field goals, second with his 17.8 points per game and third with a .540 field goal percentage. Pledger ranks third in the conference with his 2.3 3-pointers per contest and sixth with his .377 3-point percentage. M'Baye was also named to the Big 12 All-Rookie Team and was a two-time Big 12 Rookie of the Week.
"They're a great group of guys," Kruger said. "Really happy for Roe being on the first team and Amath and Pledge on the third team. They've played well all year and it's good to see them rewarded (for) that."
M'Baye, Osby and Pledger said they understand their awards are a product of the team's success, and that their teammates played a big role in their postseason recognition.
"It means a lot to me, but I also understand I couldn't have done it without my teammates, my coaches and the grace of God," Osby said. "I'm happy and excited for myself, but I'm also happy and more excited for my team, happy that I was able to represent them in a good way and help get the Oklahoma program to where it needs to be."
Looking at the numbers, it's clear how much M'Baye, Osby and Pledger have meant to OU's success this year. It's also clear how much more the team meant to them.
Nobody saw it coming. The Sooners beat TCU 75-48 on Feb. 11 in Norman, and fans nor media gave the Horned Frogs a sporting chance of turning the tables in the regular season finale in Fort Worth on Saturday.
But OU went 0-for-16 from 3-point range, shot 36.4 percent overall and lost 70-67. The Sooners trailed by 25 early in the second half before cutting the deficit to one twice in the final minutes, but they never got over the hump. The victory for TCU was just its second in Big 12 play.
"We didn't shoot the ball very well," said Kruger. "I thought that really affected our energy level and we let that affect other parts of our game. Consequently, we didn't get the result we wanted."
Kruger said he fully expects his team to bounce back this week for the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship in Kansas City. What's the key to doing that?
"Just refocus," said M'Baye on Monday. "We've had a disappointing loss before and we usually respond pretty well to that. We just have to come back to practice and go back to work. There's nothing else you can do. You can't be disappointed over it and be sad about it forever."
Thursday's 11:30 a.m. quarterfinals game against No. 5 seed Iowa State provides the perfect opportunity for the fourth-seeded Sooners to put the TCU game in their rearview mirror. With the postseason here, there's no time to dwell on the past.
Oklahoma is in Kansas City for the Big 12 Championship. The No. 4 Sooners open with a quarterfinal game vs. Iowa State on Thursday:
Big 12 Championship Central
The Sooners took down West Virginia in their home finale before dropping their last game at TCU:
Senior F Romero Osby "Everything's on the line, all the marbles on the line. People are playing their behinds off, they're playing hard with passion and energy, and it's just great. It's a great opportunity to go out there and fight as hard as you possibly can and try your best to get a win."
Junior F Amath M'Baye "The individual awards are always great, but I think the team did an amazing job and just the fact that we are in a position that we're in at the end of the season is pretty much the only reason why I got (third-team All-Big 12). We're playing better, and I'm just happy, but I'm trying to get a ring. I don't care about third team or anything, I just want a ring." TEAM NOTES
Oklahoma and Iowa State meet in a Big 12 Championship quarterfinals game on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. CT in Kansas City. The teams split the regular season series, with the Cyclones handing OU its worst defeat in Big 12 play on Feb. 4 in Ames (83-64), and the Sooners dealing ISU its worst loss of the season on March 2 in Norman (86-69).
OU has scored at least 83 points in five of its last six games (averaging 83.0 in the six), while ISU has scored at least 83 in seven of its last eight games (averaging 85.1 in the eight). The one game ISU didn't reach 83 came against OU (held to 69 points two weeks ago in Norman).
The Sooners finished with 11 conference wins, which are more than they compiled over the two previous seasons combined (won five each of the last two years).
In Big 12 play, OU ranked in the top four of the league in scoring offense (second at 73.6 ppg), field goal percentage (fourth at .451), free throw percentage (first at .774) and rebounding margin (second at +2.4).
Head Coach Lon Kruger
Lon Kruger is looking to become the first head coach to take five different Division I programs to the NCAA Tournament. He is among eight coaches who have taken four different programs to the Big Dance. The others are current coaches John Beilein, Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith, and former coaches Lefty Driesell, Jim Harrick, Tom Penders and Eddie Sutton.
Senior F Romero Osby Osby led the team (or tied for the lead) in scoring in 13 of its 18 conference games and scored in double figures in all but one. In Big 12 play, he led the league in field goals (109) while ranking second in scoring (17.8 ppg), third in field goal percentage (.540) and fifth in rebounding (7.3 rpg) and free throw percentage (.776).
Freshman G Buddy Hield Hield saw his first significant action at TCU on Saturday since breaking his foot on Feb. 11. He responded with 10 points, nine rebounds (eight offensive) two assists and three steals in 25 minutes off the bench. A starter in the 13 games before his injury, Hield is now averaging 8.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game on the season to rank fourth, third, second and first on the team, respectively. SOCIAL MEDIA
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