KANSAS CITY, Mo. — And now the Sooners wait. Which should come naturally. The Sooners did a lot of waiting Thursday.
Waiting for a ball to bounce their direction, while Iowa State treated any free ball like a reconnaissance mission. Waiting for the Cyclones to return to their reputation as softies who wouldn't attack the paint or defend it. Waiting for someone to make a basket and stop the bleeding.
Never happened, and Iowa State caught the Sooners and won going away, 73-66 in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals at the Sprint Center, a verdict that lifts the burden of NCAA Tournament uncertainty off the Cyclones' shoulders and squarely onto the Sooners'.
OU, now with a 20-11 record, entered the day ranked 33rd in the RPI, as good a guide as any to college hoops hierarchy, and a strength of schedule ranked 15th. So the Sooners still should be safely in the 68-team NCAA Tournament field, to be announced Sunday.
But you never know. And OU very well could have played itself into one of those cursed play-in games in Dayton, Ohio.
“We're always going to be nervous about it,” said OU star Romero Osby, one of the few Sooners who displayed tenacity against I-State. “But we hope we're in. We think we should be in. But it's not about us. It's about the committee and what they feel. And we have lost two straight games, so they're going to look at that. But hopefully we're still able to make it.”
Since we're hoping, let's hope the committee wasn't watching this game — unlikely, considering OU athletic director Joe Castiglione is on the committee. It's not just that the Sooners lost. It's the way they lost. OU blew a 12-point lead in the final eight minutes, which doesn't seem like much compared to that 22-point collapse at Texas 15 days prior but is massive in any other context.
Worse yet, OU lost because it was outworked. The Cyclones, known as 3-point bombardiers, were a step quicker and a pound stronger. They grabbed 14 offensive rebounds, outscored OU 18-11 in second-chance points and outscored OU 36-18 in the paint.
This Sooner team can't get outworked. It loses if it gets outworked.
The Cyclones warmed up from 3-point range, making four of their last five to finish 7-of-26. So let's review. Iowa State outscored the Sooners 21-9 on 3-pointers and 36-18 in the paint. That's a 57-27 advantage. That's a lot of ground to make up on not-close 2-point shots, and OU didn't.
“They got a lot of loose balls down the stretch,” said Osby, who led OU with 18 points and nine rebounds. “A lot of loose balls that we were getting in the first half, they ended up being quicker to them in the second half. Even when we were up 12 or 13, they were still getting those loose balls and putting them back in or putting a lot of pressure on us.”