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Oklahoma Fighting For Its Postseason Life

Thursday night at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, the Sooners need a signature win against No. 3-ranked Baylor to keep their NCAA Tournament dreams alive.

KANSAS CITY — Oklahoma has been in tournament mode for the last three games now, and the Sooners must carry that mentality into the Big 12 Tournament.

Porter Moser’s team appeared to be ahead of schedule during the non-conference slate, but then the Sooners (17-14 overall, 7-11 Big 12) were faced with the harsh reality of the Big 12 slate.

OU went 3-7 in December, and saw its NCAA Tournament hopes tumble from comfortably in the Big Dance, to on the bubble. Now the Sooners would likely be on the outside looking in.

But heading into March, Oklahoma rallied.

The Sooners finished the regular season with three straight victories, closing out their home slate with wins over Oklahoma State and West Virginia before breaking a nine-game road losing streak against Kansas State last weekend.

Needing to stack those victories to keep any NCAA Tournament hopes alive, Oklahoma guard Jordan Goldwire said he was happy with how the team responded in the face of adversity.

“We’ve kind of been fighting for our lives the last three games,” Goldwire said in a Zoom press conference on Tuesday. “It’s not good that we’re in that position, but we’re giving it everything we’ve got each and every single game.

“… If you’re a competitor, this is a situation you love to be in. You love the game and it’s an experience you’re never gonna forget.”

Inside the downtown T-Mobile Center, the Sooners will have a massive chance to propel themselves right back into the conversation for a spot in the field of 68.

Earning the 7-seed after topping Kansas State, OU earned a matchup with Baylor  (26-5, 14-4), who finished the regular season as the 2-seed in the tournament and the No. 3 team in the AP Top 25.

A victory over the Bears would thrust Oklahoma into a Friday night semifinal game against either Texas Tech or Iowa State — and right back onto the NCAA Tournament bubble.

But the Sooners lost to the Bears by a combined 24 points across two games in the regular season.

Turnovers played a huge factor in both defeats, as OU turned the ball over 17 times in Waco and 25 times in the return trip to Norman.

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To turn the tide against Baylor, Moser said his team will not only have to take care of the basketball, but the Sooners will also have to have another balanced attack. Riding the wave of three straight wins, however, Moser also said he feels his team is peaking at the right time.

“I feel we are,” Moser said. “And I think we’re getting contributions from more guys than we’ve ever had.

Marvin (Johnson’s) had some good games, C.J. (Noland’s) had some good games, Bijan (Cortes), Jacob (Groves), Ethan (Chargois). Now we’re deeper. And I’ve said this to nauseam that we’ve got to develop our bench, and we’ve had some growing pains with that, but I feel like we really hit on it yesterday. We should really be confident that we’ve got a lot of guys that contributed in that Kansas State game. We’ve got a lot of guys that can contribute in this Baylor game and feel confident with that.”

Baylor’s defense is what sets the Bears apart from a majority of the teams in the country, but Moser hopes the Sooners will be able to limit the damage and work the ball around for good shots.

“They're the third (ranked) defense in the country,” Moser said. “They really really get up in you and force you to do things and speed up.

“… They went to switching one through five, and they're going to switch (Flo) Thamba on our guards. He's big and long, and they've Kendall Brown and Jeremy Sochan who are just so long in there. … They're going to turn you over, but we have to have that in a manageable number where you're trying to get it to like 12 and under or 11 and under.”

On top of taking care of the ball, Tanner Groves will have to continue his recent trend of excellent play.

Playing a more physical brand of basketball, Groves has averaged 15.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game across OU’s three-game wining streak.

“Him and I have watched tape one-on-one,” Moser said. “We’ve watched it with the team. We’ve shown where he can be more physical. He has to get lower leverage. He has to be able to not worry so much about getting hit, but play through it.

“You can really see it with the rebounding… He’s getting rebounds in traffic. It’s just a great example of someone who wants to get better, someone who is humble enough to look at tape and accept what he needs to improve on and do it.”

Oklahoma will get its chance to notch a signature win Thursday night. Tip-off between the Sooners and the Bears from Kansas City is scheduled for 6 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.  

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