NORMAN — This much is clear after Oklahoma's opening week of conference play — Lon Kruger and his Sooners have a long way to go on their journey back to respectability and relevance.
But Saturday afternoon, something else became clear.
They are taking steps.
Sure, Kansas came to town and popped OU, 72-61. Yes, the Jayhawks led by as many as 22 points in the second half.
But with the exception of the first 10 or 12 minutes of the second half, the Sooners stood toe to toe with the Jayhawks. They traded punches with the No. 14 team in the land. They landed as many blows as they took.
That's some serious progress.
Just a few days earlier at Missouri, the Tigers landed one knockout punch after another, and the Sooners just took it. There was no fight. There was no energy.
“Better battle today,” Kruger acknowledged Saturday. “Certainly more good stretches than there were Tuesday.”
Thing is, after the way the Sooners played Tuesday, it wouldn't have been completely out of the question for them to play that way again Saturday. It was deflating to be so lifeless at Missouri. It was embarrassing to be beaten by 38 points.
The last few seasons, that kind of performance almost certainly would've carried over.
That looks to be changing.
The Sooners came out against the Jayhawks with a bounce in their step. They were active on the defensive end, causing turnovers, forcing contested shots and even sending the Jayhawks into an offensive tailspin when they started playing zone. They were every bit as engaged on the offensive end, not settling for outside shots and getting to the free throw line.
As a result, the Sooners led 34-33 at halftime.
“We came out in the first half and we were really strong on both halves of the court,” Sooner big man Romero Osby said. “That's a fun way to play.”