In mid-January, the Oklahoma men’s basketball team lost four of five – one in overtime and three against ranked Big 12 rivals on the road – to fall to 12-7 on the season. The Sooners (21-9, 12-6) have since won nine of 11 and are ranked 15th in the country.

What changed?

“We lost a home game to Kansas State, then we lost at Baylor (and) we lost at Kansas – so sometimes it’s partly the schedule,” Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Those are tough places to win. And the other game we lost was at West Virginia. So yeah, we lost four out of five, but with the exception of the home game against Kansas State, they were on the road to Top 20 teams. I would have liked to have won a couple more of those, but the guys have responded well. They continue to work at it. They didn’t let that bad record-wise stretch affect them or get them down. They kept getting better. I think they’ve done that as a group throughout the year. This group has practiced well and they’ve continued to get better.”

Oklahoma will face Oklahoma State (18-12) in the Big 12 quarterfinals Thursday at 9:30 p.m. ET – albeit amidst a bit of on-campus controversy. Oklahoma has severed ties with its Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, which was caught on video this past weekend chanting racially insensitive material.

“We found out about it last night, pretty much along with everyone else,” Kruger said. “Our students and our student-athletes and their coaches, I thought, all responded appropriately today (with a protest). Everyone’s embarrassed by it. It’s disgraceful. They’re stupid comments by a few, and certainly our players and students did a good job expressing their distaste for that. That group’s been shut down and kicked off campus, and I think the president’s taken swift and appropriate action.”

That president is David Boren, who said he could not sleep after watching the video.

Gottlieb asked Kruger what effect, if any, this incident could have on recruiting.

“It was the act of a few, and certainly it doesn’t reflect Oklahoma and all the great things they’ve done as a university,” Kruger said. “If someone doesn’t want to come to Oklahoma, then they could certainly point to that (as a reason not to). But I don’t see that being . . . an issue at all going forward.”

Getting back to the court, Gottlieb believes this year’s Oklahoma team is much better than last year’s version (23-10) – despite the similar record. The Sooners are better defensively, they’re better on the boards, and Buddy Hield (17.4 points per game) and Isaiah Cousins (12.2) have become more complete players.

Kruger agrees.

“We’re a year older,” he said. “We cover much better. We rebound the ball better. I think we’re positioned to win ball games better. Not to say that we will, but I think we’ve got better personality as a group. We can get stops. We can get a big rebound. We’ve got more options offensively. That gives you a better team to play in the NCAAs.”

But first, the Sooners must beat Oklahoma State – a team they’ve handled twice this season. As Kruger can attest, though, beating a team three times in one season is never easy.

“It’s difficult, especially when it’s a good team,” he said. “Oklahoma State’s a really good basketball team and they’ve got some leading scorers in Phil (Forte III) and (Le’Bryan) Nash and now Anthony (Hickey Jr.) is scoring more for them. They’ve got good players around those three guys. So our guys know that. The two games we’ve won have been hard-fought. They’ve gone down to the wire. We know we’ll have to play well to win on Thursday.”


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