NORMAN — Oklahoma men's basketball coach Lon Kruger isn't quick to assign more importance to one win over another.
“We know every game in the Big 12's going to be really tough for us,” Kruger said after Saturday's 77-74 Bedlam win at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
He might've said that Saturday, but it could've come after any of the Sooners' Big 12 games this season, and many times Kruger has said similar things.
Kruger hasn't said many things like this, though:
“It's a huge game, and to get it in the right column makes a big difference,” he said after the win at Oklahoma State. “Every time you can add one at this point of the season is huge, and to add a road win at this time of year is even bigger.”
The win over Oklahoma State was big for quite a few reasons.
* Because it's Bedlam and any win over Oklahoma State is huge for OU.
* Because the Sooners were coming off a disappointing home loss to Texas Tech that included a first half filled with bad shooting and worse ball security.
* Because it gave the Sooners four road wins in conference play.
* And finally, because of the upcoming schedule.
The next three games will be particularly tough.
After getting this week off, the Sooners start an eight-day stretch that includes a home game against a Kansas State team that knocked off OU at home last month; a Big Monday game in Phog Allen Fieldhouse against No. 7-ranked Kansas; and a home game against No. 19 Texas, which has been much improved since the Sooners won in Austin on Jan. 4.
“It was a big bounce back, absolutely. Exactly right, no question,” Kruger also said following Saturday's win.
But he quickly went back to talking about the toughness of the Big 12, the league that still leads the RPI and where only TCU can be considered anything close to a breather.
“This is a growing opportunity,” Kruger said. “This group, they've grown all year, made progress consistently.
“There were a lot of unknowns early in the year, and these guys have stuck together and they've grown and like moving the ball to each other. They like playing the game. They're a great bunch.”
Entering the season, Oklahoma wasn't given much of a chance at making a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Sooners returned hardly any scoring from last season. Although Buddy Hield and Cam Clark have carried the scoring load at different times, the Sooners have shown the ability to win without their top scorers.
They beat Texas A&M in late December with just six points from Hield. They defeated the Cowboys on Saturday with just five points from Clark.
Oklahoma remains the only team in Division I to have used the same starting lineup all season and to have all five of those starters averaging in double figures.
When Jordan Woodard or Isaiah Cousins has struggled, Je'lon Hornbeak has filled in solidly at both guard spots. When Clark or Ryan Spangler have found themselves in foul trouble, Tyler Neal and D.J. Bennett have filled in capably.
Barring a complete collapse down the stretch, the Sooners are heading back to the tournament.
“Last year, we were kind of in the mix and got in fortunately,” Neal said. “This year, it's fun taking it to the next level and seeing how good of a seed we can get, not just get in.”