NORMAN, Okla. — Oklahoma guard Christian James said he can’t quite explain it.
His coach, Lon Kruger, tried.
OU has gone 10-2 in non-conference road games over the last two seasons, but is just 1-11 in Big 12 road games. The reason why the Sooners have been substantially better in the first is simply due to quality of opponents, Kruger argued.
“The teams are better,” he said. “The Big 12 is the best league in the country. We’re realizing that.”
But this reasoning is at least somewhat suspect.
OU has some high-profile non-conference wins on the road in the last two seasons. Last year, it beat Wichita State, which was ranked in the top 5 at the time, in Wichita, and also topped Oregon, in Portland, Oregon, and Southern California, in Los Angeles, in not-so-neutral contests.
This year, the Sooners (13-5, 2-4 Big 12) are the only team in the country to own wins over an opponent from every power conference, and that’s not including perennial Atlantic 10-contender Dayton. Also, OU started its season playing just three of its first 13 games in Norman, its fewest since 1975-76 and still went 11-2. Sure, Northwestern, Florida and Notre Dame all have gotten off to a slow start in their respective conferences, but as they have each reached the NCAA tournament in at least the last three seasons, they would seem to be good stand ins for at least some of the Big 12.
“The physicality in the games, the talent level is off the charts,” James said. “You’re pretty much playing pros every night. You have to come out and play. Anything can happen. It’s a tough league.”
Regardless of why things have gone wrong in OU’s three Big 12 road games, at Kansas, Texas Tech and Texas, all losses by fewer than 10 points, the Sooners need them to go right at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Oklahoma State’s Gallagher-Iba Arena.
The Cowboys (8-10, 2-4) are reeling from the dismissal of three players, Michael Weathers, Maurice Calloo and Kentrevious Jones, for violation of team rules a week ago. In their only game without the trio, they lost 72-59 to Iowa State, and they just recently added six walk-ons to help field a practice squad.
But just because OU is the favorite Wednesday doesn’t guarantee a win. Last year, OU beat OSU by 30 in Norman only to lose in overtime in Stillwater. The crowd was a major factor as the Sooners made critical mistakes in the final minutes, while they also shot just 10 of 35 from behind the 3-point arc.
Their composure looked rattled, and it looked that way once again in Austin Saturday.
“I would say a little bit,” guard Aaron Calixte said. “A lot of things were going through people’s minds during that time. That’s something we have to do better down the stretch is just focusing on one thing at a time.”
This from a team that seemed so composed on the road before the calendar flipped to 2019.
“I don’t know if it’s something specific,” Calixte said. “I just think we’re not doing the things we were doing at the beginning of the year that defined us defensively. It’s something we have to emphasize and get back to our ways, executing down the stretch.”
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