KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jeff Capel was surprised when he heard the news that Baylor star Perry Jones III was ineligible for the Big 12 Tournament.
Surprised, but not sympathetic. Join the club, Baylor.
Capel's beleaguered Sooners routed the Bears 84-67 Wednesday night and offered a sliver of hope that OU basketball could emerge from its two-year funk.
Sure, the loss of Jones, a wondrous 6-foot-11 freshman expected to go top-five in the NBA Draft, hurt Baylor. Jones was benched by the NCAA, something about loans his mother received from an AAU coach, before Jones got to Baylor.
But two things about that.
1. The Sooners kicked Baylor all over the Sprint Center, leading by as much as 19 in the first half and 25 in the second half before winning by 17. Jones doesn't make a 17-point difference.
“It sucks for their team, but we attacked with the same gameplan,” said OU point guard Carl Blair.
2. Funny money cost Jones one game? Funny money cost the Sooners Tiny Gallon for a full season.
Picture Gallon on this OU squad, especially with the imported Blair producing like he did against Baylor: 14 points, 11 assists, six rebounds.
Capel has said Gallon, the 6-foot-9 skilled center, wouldn't have left OU after last season, had he not been implicated in receiving $3,000 from a Tampa financier. The Sooners were no innocent bystanders; phone records linked Capel assistant Oronde Taliaferro to the Tampa money man, Jeffrey Hausinger, and Taliaferro resigned last year.
Bottom line, college basketball is a cesspool sport. So don't feel sorry for Baylor.
But salute these Sooners, who a week earlier suffered their worst loss of the season, an 84-58 browbeating at Texas Tech. Since then, OU has won a Bedlam slugfest and snuffed the NCAA Tournament hopes from Baylor.
“Our guys were really good,” Capel said. “I knew we'd come in with some confidence.”
And that was even before the Perry Jones news broke in mid-afternoon.
“This team is not as talented as our team last year, but it's a way better team,” Capel said.
Blair is a major reason why. He came to OU as a desperation recruit, after Tommy Mason-Griffin bolted the program last March. When the University of New Orleans dropped from Division I after last season, Blair was free to transfer and play immediately.
Blair's transition has been rocky, but he's turning into a point guard Capel can stand to live with.
“The Sun Belt has good players,” Blair said. “But the Big 12, top to bottom, every team is good. Just have to be more focused. Never can take a night off.”
Blair has gotten better and better as the season progresses. He's fifth in the Big 12 in assists (4.4 per game) and third in conference game assists (4.6).
“Get good point guard play, it gives you a better chance to win,” Capel said. “Carl was tremendous all game, running our team, getting us into our stuff.”
The Sooners remain a long way from their previous status as Big 12 contenders. We don't even know if Capel will be back next season; the two-year apathy that has afflicted the program spread to the Sprint Center, where there weren't more than 50 apparent Sooner fans in the arena. At old Kemper Arena, it was nothing for OU to have 1,000 fans for a tournament game.
But Sooner basketball is not as destitute as it seemed earlier in the season, when it was losing to Chaminade and going to overtime with North Carolina Central.
“I feel good about where we are and where we're going,” Capel said.
That's a little optimistic, but give the Sooners this: They're going out of this season with something more than a whimper.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.