NORMAN — The last time Ryan Spangler went against Kansas State, he came out of the game with a bloodied scratch on his neck, courtesy of a Wildcats defender.
“They've got to do something to get him off the boards,” teammate Cam Clark said. “That's not going to faze him, getting scratched or elbowed. He's still going to go and that's what we need from him.”
Spangler also came out of that game with 21 points and 14 rebounds, further cementing his place as the player who sets the tone for Oklahoma, especially defensively.
The Sooners lost that game, though. Saturday, they get another chance at the Wildcats, hosting Kansas State at 3 p.m. at Lloyd Noble Center.
If Oklahoma wins this time, there's a good chance Spangler will have plenty to do with it and there's a good chance his grit inside will come into play.
“If we didn't have that, I don't know where we'd be,” Sooners coach Lon Kruger said. “Ryan's affected everyone's physicality, their toughness. That's been contagious to the rest of the team.”
That toughness was born growing up the son of a high school football coach who now works the oil fields. It was strengthened being the youngest of three boys — Spangler's older brothers both played college football.
“They always used to beat me up when I was younger,” Spangler said. “And when I was little, if I wasn't being tough — if I cried — they would always gripe at me and try to get me better.”
And then it was honed throughout the last three years, first as a two-sport star at Bridge Creek, then as a freshman at Gonzaga, and now in Norman.
In the 2011 Class 4A state title game, Spangler got a rare game against players who matched his size. Douglass' Marquis Buxton-Hill was 6-foot-9, brothers Romond and Ramond Jenkins 6-foot-6.
Douglass, led by Stevie Clark, won that game but Spangler did everything he could, scoring 28 and pulling down 18 rebounds.
“They started off man-on-man with Ryan and then they put two on him and by the fourth quarter they had three guys on him,” said Ryan Spangler's father Larry. “That's when I saw that he was pretty tough.”
At Gonzaga, it developed thanks to daily battles in practice with 7-footers Robert Sacre and, to a lesser degree, Kelly Olynyk.
“If they were going to get into the lane, I'd hit them or I was going to get dunked on all the time,” Spangler said. “It's hard to move a 280-pound man (Sacre) that's as strong as him.”
Then when Spangler arrived in Norman, sitting out a year, the toughness kept right on building.
He spent much of last season guarding Romero Osby in practice.
“Guarding Ro, you've got to be fast guarding him but you've got to be tough too,” Spangler said. “Last year was a big steppingstone for me becoming tough and not letting anybody push me around.”
In several games during Big 12 play — the game at Kansas State, the home win over Iowa State and both Bedlam wins especially — Spangler has had stretches of dominance on both ends.
“Every time he goes on little spurts when he keeps getting boards and stuff, it's like an energy boost for the team,” D.J. Bennett said. “We feed off his hard work.”