Oklahoma's win at WVU was more than a win — it was a statement

This Sooner squad plays with defensive toughness, effort and selflessness — qualities that could produce a memorable postseason run
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The scene inside Oklahoma’s locker room on Saturday afternoon reflected something more than a win.

Beating West Virginia was a statement.

Earlier in the day, the NCAA revealed its initial top 16, slotting those teams with an early seeding preview. OU was a 3-seed — and that may have been too low.

“That is pretty good if that’s the way it ends up,” head coach Lon Kruger said after the 91-90 double-overtime victory in Morgantown. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do, as you know. They (his players) keep getting better and we’ll earn what we get at the end.”

Then Kruger said something that was almost shocking in its enormity.

“This group’s made a ton of progress since December — maybe as much as any team we’ve ever had, if you want to put that at over 40 years.”

Coaches loathe comparisons. It was Teddy Roosevelt who first said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” but it’s been college coaches who put that comment to work as ardently as anyone. Don’t ask me about this team compared to some other team. Don’t ask me about past teams compared to this one. Just appreciate what this team is doing and enjoy the moment.

And yet, here sits Kruger, some 120 years after TR’s famous letter, illustrating how far the 2020-21 Sooners have journeyed compared to the other 37 teams of which he’s been the man in charge.

“This group’s made a ton of progress since December — maybe as much as any team we’ve ever had, if you want to put that at over 40 years.”

That shows his conviction about how far this Sooner squad has come. They win with defense, they've rebounded better than they're supposed to, they make big shots in crunch time and they share the basketball. 

OU is now 13-5 overall and 8-4 in Big 12 Conference play. The Sooners have swept West Virginia, they beat Kansas in Norman, they beat Texas in Austin, they took down No. 9 Alabama, and they’re tied with Ohio State for the most wins (five) against Top 15 teams.

In the entire country, only three teams have at least five Quad 1 wins, a .500 record against Quad 1 teams and zero losses against teams outside of Quad 1: No. 1-ranked Gonzaga, No. 2-ranked Baylor and No. 12-ranked Oklahoma.

Of course, success is fleeting. OU’s reward for all that is another rematch with No. 13-ranked Texas on Tuesday at Lloyd Noble Center. Keep beating Big 12 teams, and the Sooners’ postseason resume is built on a rock. Lose to the Longhorns — or the Cyclones, the Wildcats, or the Cowboys — and it can all come down like a house of cards.

“We’ve got some tough challenges ahead,” Kruger said. “We know that.”

Winning is always enough. And when you blow a nine-point lead on the road to a red-hot and talented conference opponent, only to rally back and win in double overtime, winning feels really good. That certainly explains the postgame locker room celebration.

Kruger has been a part of 671 of these now on the college level, and he wasn’t playing it cool on Saturday — he cut loose and enjoyed himself.

“When he came into the locker room after the game, he was really excited,” said senior Austin Reaves. “That’s big for us just because he’s been doing this a long time. He puts us in really good situations to be successful, so to see him happy like that, that means a lot to us.”

“He puts us in really good situations to be successful, so to see him happy like that, that means a lot to us.”

“Having a game like this and coming out with a win, it kind of brings your spirits up,” said senior Brady Manek. “You don’t want to fight those and come out with a loss. You definitely push forward to the postseason. It makes us better. Makes us tougher. We’ll learn from it and get ready for the next one.”

Kruger’s satisfaction comes from seeing the players work hard, practice hard — “unbelievable focus” last week, he said — and then having success in games.

“I’m always happy for ‘em after they compete and battle and do a good job,” Kruger said, “but maybe a little bit more so on this occasion.”