Oklahoma State's seven-game conference winning streak didn't start with West Virginia, victim No. 1 in the run.
It started — in spirit — with a loss: at Oklahoma, Jan. 12.
A ragged and at times lifeless performance that left Cowboys coach Travis Ford questioning his team's effort, that 77-68 loss was the impetus for OSU's turnaround, sparking enough concern to warrant an intensity check that spurred improved play and this impressive streak, the program's longest since 2004, when that Eddie Sutton team went all the way to the Final Four.
“After we lost that game, we went back, had some early morning practices,” said Cowboys captain Markel Brown. “And we looked at ourselves in the mirror.
“We knew we were better than that. So we took a different approach that we were going to be an aggressive team.”
Ford gave his team its usual day off the Sunday following that setback in Norman, then turned up the heat, ordering 6 a.m. practices and even a few two-a-days.
“Which I've never done in the middle of the season,” Ford said. “We got back like it was the first week of practice, and got their attention a little bit.
“It's as down as I've been on our basketball team, after that game. It's not because we lost, because I thought we got beat by a good team that day. It's because I thought we did not perform the way we needed to perform.
“We tried to change the mentality a little bit.”
Ford said that day was the first time he'd seen these Cowboys fail to fire. Still, he didn't want it to start a trend.
“With a young team,” he said, “you've got to grab it real quick.”
To their credit, the Cowboys didn't bristle at Ford's demands. They answered them.
“They weren't happy with themselves,” Ford said. “It doesn't do any good for just me to be unhappy. They need to be unhappy themselves when they don't play well. And they were.
“This team does a good job of embracing what we give them.”
Ever since, the Cowboys have carried the fight, with Saturday's 84-79 overtime win in the Bedlam rematch the latest example. Even in their last loss, at Baylor on Jan. 21, the Pokes played the aggressor. It wasn't their approach that sunk them in Waco, but poor shooting.
By the time No. 14 Kansas arrives for Wednesday's showdown of Big 12 frontrunners in Gallagher-Iba Arena, it'll have been nearly a month since the Cowboys last lost.
Before the streak, OSU stood 2-3 in the Big 12 and 12-5 overall, a hard-to-define squad searching for a breakthrough, still winless on the conference road.
Now, look back at any game in the streak and you can find snapshots of their renewed approach.
Providing the opening punch at Kansas, then closing with knockout blows at crunch time.
Seizing wins late with more clutch character against Iowa State and Baylor and now OU.
And the once harped-on road woes? Dismissed and replaced with a three-game road win streak, two of them romps.
It hasn't always been easy or pretty, but consistently gritty. OSU's string of wins has been marked by a renewed toughness — physical and mental — especially late in tight games when the verdict was teetering.
Now when the Cowboys look in the mirror, there's much more to like.
“This is a pretty good team and a hard-working team,” Brown said. “We've worked hard for where we are now. And it's coming together for us.”