The last time a men’s Oklahoma basketball team beat Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence was 25 years ago.
That tells you all you need to know about how difficult it is to win there as a visiting team. And the Sooners are not alone. In the 16-plus seasons that Bill Self has been the head coach at Kansas, the Jayhawks have lost just eight times in 111 games against Big 12 teams and just 16 times overall.
Oklahoma has never beaten Kansas in Lawrence during the time Self has been the Jayhawks’ head coach, and they won there just twice in the 15 seasons under Self’s predecessor, Roy Williams, the last one coming in 1993.
The Sooners acquitted themselves well on Wednesday night against the 14-time defending Big 12 champion and currently the nation’s fifth-ranked team in the Associated Press poll , given the tough road environment and a hostile crowd. OU was an eight-point underdog coming into the game and lost by seven, 70-63. The Kansas lead was just four points, though, at 67-63 with just 33 ticks remaining in the game.
There was some question about the legitimacy of OU’s 11-1 record and top-25 ranking coming into the game (the Sooners are ranked 23rd in this week’s AP poll). At times in the opening half, despite a 7-0 OU run to begin the game, it looked as if the Sooners were going to be left in a cloud of dust, lending credence to the critics who didn’t believe this Oklahoma team, although improved over last season, could hang with mighty Jayhawks, who twice this season have been the country’s top-ranked team.
The Sooners trailed by 15 points, 40-25 at the intermission, but opened up the second half, much like the first, with a 9-0 run to cut the Kansas lead to six. Twice in the second half, OU rallied from 12-point deficits to get back into the game, but just couldn’t get over that final hump in the closing minutes.
The outcome of this year’s game at Kansas was in sharp contrast to the last time the Sooners visited iconic Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks took no prisoners a year ago, blowing out Oklahoma 104-74 in Lawrence.
The biggest takeaway from the game was that the Sooners played very well in spurts, but it was far from their best effort overall. OU committed too many mental mistakes with the basketball, shot poorly for extended stretches and were outhustled on 50/50 balls. Still they absorbed Kansas’ best punch and refused to stay down, playing with tremendous fight and grit to the very end.
Kansas had a size advantage over the Sooners at every position, and when the Jayhawks went with their size and length lineup, OU had difficult scoring at the rim, settling for lower-percentage perimeter shots. Kansas outscored the Sooners 40-32 in the paint and scored 22 points off of 17 Oklahoma turnovers. The Jayhawks also had 13 second-chance points to just six for the Sooners.
Oklahoma’s 11th-ranked defense kicked into gear in the second half after allowing Kansas 40 points on 46 percent shooting in the opening 30 minutes. In the second half, the Jayhawks were held to half as many field goals and shot just 33 percent overall. Kansas recorded just eight field goals in the second half, and at least half of those were tightly contested.
OU’s Brady Manek and KU’s Devon Dotson shared high-point honors in the game with 16 points. Manek also hauled down 11 rebounds. It was Manek’s fourth double-double of the season.
Despite the Big 12 opening loss, only the Sooners’ second on the season, OU should feel good about where it is at this point, approximately a third of the way through the 2018-19 season, and how the Sooners are playing. While last year’s Sooner squad, with First-Team All-American Trae Young, was 12-1 at this stage of the season, that team was on the brink of a second-half collapse. I see just the opposite coming from this deeper, more experienced and more confident group of Sooners. I truly belief their best is yet to come.
Bedlam is next up on the men’s hoops schedule, with the Sooners hosting in-state rival Oklahoma State on Saturday. Our expectation is we will see OU bounce back from the Kansas loss and play more like team we witnessed in November and December.
There’s still a long way to go, and the good news is, the Sooners won’t have to play at Kansas anymore this season. They got the hard one out of the way first.