STILLWATER — Le'Bryan Nash came clean Sunday, after all but floating through the first half of an eventual Cowboys rout of Central Arkansas.
The name — or lack of a significant name — on the opposing jersey can hinder his enthusiasm.
“I don't know about my teammates,” Nash said, “but it is for me. That's one weakness of my game, I play at the level of the competition. That's something I'm trying to change.
“I knew it was going to happen during this stretch.”
This stretch, a series of games opposite midlevel teams from mid-major conferences, including Wednesday night against UT Arlington, serves as the appetizer to the main course of Oklahoma State's schedule: Gonzaga and the Big 12.
For some, however, it's a stretch that's not all that appetizing. And for the Cowboys, they're clearly hungering for more.
In the eyes of OSU coach Travis Ford, it's a necessary run-up in terms of teaching and growing as a team.
“There's still so much room for improvement for this basketball team,” Ford said. “There's so many areas I could break down where we've got to get better, much better, and quickly.”
In the eyes of Nash, it's more like a necessary evil.
“I'm glad he admits it,” Ford said. “They say the first thing to fixing a problem is admitting it.”
Unfortunately, it's a problem that surely extends to other Cowboys and to the fan base, too. Alas, the problem will soon fix itself.
After UT Arlington and a Saturday meeting with Tennessee Tech, the intensity ratchets up for the Cowboys in a major way. OSU, 8-1 and ranked No. 24 nationally, just finds itself in between intriguing challenges. The nonconference schedule was frontloaded, with Tennessee and North Carolina State and Virginia Tech.
“When we played N.C. State and Tennessee, I played better, like I want to play,” said Nash.
And while Nash and the Cowboys haven't completely nodded off in any of these recent games — they've turned it on when necessary — they have needed an occasional in-game motivational moment from Ford to regain focus.
Yet coming up: a New Year's Eve showdown with No. 14 Gonzaga in Gallagher-Iba Arena, followed by the opening of Big 12 play at Kansas State on Jan. 5.
Zags chatter grows around the program, causing Ford to wince.
Already an anticipated game, interest in the matchup heightened when Boone Pickens bought the remaining available 4,000 seats and offered them free. Snatched up in minutes from the OSU ticket office, the game is now officially a sellout.
“I can't tell you how many questions I've gotten on Gonzaga,” Ford said. “It was getting a lot of (hype) because of what Mr. Pickens did — which was wonderful, great — but everyone's been wanting to talk about that.
“That game seems so far away right now.”
Regardless, the countdown is on.
“I've been hearing a lot of talk about it,” said Cowboys guard Markel Brown, before going into a Ford imitation. “We're just preparing ourselves for the next team. And when the time comes, when we get to Gonzaga, we'll prepare for them and we'll be ready to play.”
No. 24 Oklahoma State vs. UT Arlington
* When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
* Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater
* TV: FSPLUS (Cox 68/HD 715)
* Radio: KXXY-FM 96.1
Three things to know
* Since beating OSU 69-58 in 1987, UTA is 0-28 against the Big 12. The Mavericks are 1-10 all-time against the Cowboys.
* The Mavericks are 0-2 this season against Big 12 competition — their only losses — falling 63-59 to Oklahoma in Arlington and 70-54 to Texas in Austin.
* Former Cowboys guard Reger Dowell is redshirting this year with UTA, after transferring from OSU last year.