Oklahoma's first meeting against Missouri was a complete disaster.
The Tigers' 87-49 win in a Big 12 men's basketball opener was OU's most lopsided conference loss in the league's era.
Even more telling, it was OU's most lopsided loss in the Mizzou series since a 66-22 embarrassment 90 years ago.
Undefeated at the time, Missouri led this season's first matchup by as many as 42 points. The Tigers were beyond hot. Mizzou was shooting close to 70 percent for the game midway through the second half.
The rematch is Monday night at Lloyd Noble Center. The Sooners are improved. But are they improved enough to have any chance of avenging the lopsided loss against the No. 4 team in the country?
“They didn't get our best game,” said OU point guard Sam Grooms. “We weren't ready to take that step up (in conference play) like we should have. We feel good about playing them again . . .this time, we get them on our floor. It's been a month. We're a lot better.”
So is Missouri, which has posted road wins at Baylor and Iowa State and rallied to beat Kansas on Saturday night to tie the Jayhawks and Bears for the conference lead. A month before the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers (21-2) are a candidate for a No. 1 seed.
“We're more ready on each possession to compete for results,” said OU coach Lon Kruger. “But it's not like Missouri has played the last month and gotten worse. They're playing well, a top five team in the country.”
OU assistant coach Steven Henson has experienced dramatic head-to-head turnarounds.
Four years ago at UNLV, Henson an assistant on Kruger's staff, watched the Runnin' Rebels romp past BYU 70-41. In the rematch a month later, the Cougars won by 26 points.
Henson's most memorable turnaround was in 1988 as Kansas State's starting point guard.
Purdue crushed the Wildcats 101-72 five days before Christmas. Three months later, K-State avenged the loss with a 73-70 upset win over the No. 1-seeded Boilermakers in a Sweet 16 showdown as the 'Cats advanced to the Elite Eight.
“On the flip side, when you beat somebody that easily, the danger is you think it's going to be that easy again. It's human nature,” Henson said. “Sometimes you forget how hard you worked or how well you executed. Purdue was better than us, but we played really well that day.”
The Sooners need to play really well Monday night against Missouri, a senior-laden team that poses matchup problems. OU's most daunting challenge is to not get beaten off the dribble for easy points.
Missouri owned a 36-10 in-the-paint edge a month ago, largely due to a dozen layups and two dunks. The Tigers were simply too quick. The Sooners played on their heels.
“We got tentative because of their speed,” Henson said. “Hopefully, we're playing a lot better now. We think we are.”
Guard the Tigers too closely and Marcus Denmon, Kim English and the Pressey brothers, Phil and Matt, will blow around you for a layup. Lay back, and they'll drain 3-pointers.
“We're more capable than most teams (to defend them) because we have four mobile guys with a four man (Romero Osby) who can guard on the perimeter,” Kruger said. “But they're a tough matchup. They're not just guards. They're quick guards that are good off the dribble and shoot really well.”
Missouri ranks fourth nationally in field goal percentage (49.9). The Tigers, though, are vulnerable against teams that can dominate the boards.
“That's the plan,” said Kruger. “We haven't done it as consistently in conference play as we did early, but the level of play is lot better. Rebounding is a big key. To beat a top-five team, something has to stand out.”
Playing physical might help offset the Tigers' quickness edge.
“They're tough to guard, and they can't shoot 3's and have a good five man (Theo Ratliffe) in the post,” Osby said. “You have to be physical with them and alert, ready to guard them out top, knowing they may try to take you off the dribble. It's both mental and physical toughness.”
Osby is an example where the Sooners are improved. He's expanded his game, attacking off the dribble, draining 15-footers and scoring in the post.
A complement to Andrew Fitzgerald (averaging 14.9 points in conference play), Osby has averaged 16.3 points the past month, a span of eight games.
“They didn't get our best game in Columbia,” Osby said. “We weren't ready to take that step like we should have. We feel much better playing them this time. It's on our home floor. We've gotten a lot better.”