Oklahoma men's basketball: Sooners know it's time to get down to Big 12 business
Practice picks up intensity as Sooners prepare for Saturday's league opener at West Virginia. Tip is 3:01 p.m. Oklahoma time.
NORMAN — Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger looked at his team and scowled.
Rare for a man who hardly raises his voice, yells — and seldom scowls.
But this was the final practice in Norman before the start of Big 12 men's basketball play. On Saturday, Oklahoma will play West Virginia for the second time this season (the first was a non-conference contest at the Old Spice Classic). The first conference game between the teams tips at 3:01 p.m. in Morgantown, W. Va.
At 3:02, there's absolutely no looking back. OU will have a schedule that includes nine more games away from Lloyd Noble Center; a win here and there will do nothing but help the Sooners' NCAA Tournament bid.
That's why practice was visibly different, even if Kruger didn't think so.
“I don't know that it's changed noticeably,” Kruger said. “The start of Big 12, there's a little bit of a different edge to everything. I think across the country when you start conference play, it goes up a notch. Not intentionally, but it's just human nature.
“Not that the pre-conference stuff is less important, but the conference stuff takes on a little more significance because now you've got standings and the round-robin in the Big 12.”
But the last few days of practice were different. More players were holding each other accountable in practice. It seemed the trend was to stare someone else down.
Even senior Steven Pledger said Kruger's coaching tactics had changed.
“Big 12 season is coming up,” Pledger said. “It all counts now.”