After a highly successful year, Oklahoma got a No. 2 seed and virtually a home venue in the NCAA Tournament.
The Sooners will play No. 15 seeded California State University at Bakersfield, the Roadrunners, at 3 p.m. Friday in Oklahoma City.
That’s less than 30 miles from the OU campus in Norman.
What does it mean to play in Oklahoma City?
“That’s very exciting,” said OU’s Isaiah Cousins. “You have energy. The fans are going to be there watching.”
“I really like the draw and I like playing in OKC,” said OU All American Buddy Hield. “I think we will have a good crowd there. I feel like we have momentum.”
“It will be great,” Kruger said. “Guys will be able to sleep in their own beds another night. We won’t have to travel that far. Fans will have convenience for their travel. We should have a great number there and create a home court advantage.”
Conventional wisdom was that if OU could win the Big 12 Tournament, the Sooners might capture a No. 1 seed and land in Oklahoma City. OU beat Iowa State and then lost to West Virginia, who fell in the finals to Kansas.
The Sooners know little about CSUB but they know they challenge of being a highly ranked team against a determined opponent.
“They play hard. We can’t take any plays off,” Hield said. “We need to lock in and focus on every possession. And go make plays and make shots. If you don’t make shots, you won’t advance.
“We have to play together and help each other. We have to play hard on defense.”
This is the fourth consecutive season that OU will go to the tournament under Coach Kruger. The 25-7 Sooners’ game will be televised by TNT, with Carter Blackburn, Mike Gminski and Jaime Maggio on the call.
If the Sooners win their tournament opener, they will play Sunday against the winner of Friday’s contest between No. 7 seed Oregon St. and No. 10 seed VCU. Games in Oklahoma City will be played inside Chesapeake Energy Arena (approximately 21 miles north of the Lloyd Noble Center).
The Sooners, who finished in third place in the Big 12 Conference with a 12-6 mark, are making their 30th NCAA Tournament appearance. Their 26 appearances since 1983 are the second most in the Big 12 during the span behind Kansas’ 32 and tied with Michigan State for ninth most nationally.
“It’s a great time of year and we are excited about the opportunity that lies ahead,” Kruger said. “Playing in Oklahoma City is fantastic. Early in the year there was a lot of mention about, from other folks, Oklahoma City and how nice it would be to get there. Our guys have done what they needed to in order to accomplish that, which is great.”
Leading the Sooners into Friday’s game will be back-to-back Big 12 Player of the Year, Hield, along with fellow seniors Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler.
Hield is averaging a league-best (also first among Power 5 players) 25.0 points a game this season and leads the conference’s guards with his 5.6 rebounds a contest. The Freeport, Bahamas, native is currently the only player in America averaging at least 25.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. The national player of the year candidate currently stands in fourth place in career scoring both in OU and Big 12 history (2,165 points).
“We have to go out there and compete as hard as we can,” Hield said. “You’ve got to leave it all out on the floor because you can’t get a game back. Playing in Oklahoma City, it means a lot. Now you’re home, the crowd, the fans are going to be there.”
Oklahoma native Spangler is among four student-athletes to recently make their 100th consecutive start together for the Sooners (Cousins, Hield and Woodard). The Big 12 leading rebounder (9.4 rpg) has 13 double-doubles on the season heading into the NCAA Tournament.
“It means a lot (to play in Oklahoma City) being from here,” Spangler said. “I’ve got a lot of people that will be at the game. Just being able to play in front of your fans will be great.”
Friday’s game will mark OU’s first against CSU Bakersfield. The Roadrunners, coached by former OU assistant (2006-07) Rod Barnes. CSUB moved to NCAA Division I beginning with the 2007-08 season.
The Sooners, who have claimed a school record eight wins against top 25 teams this season, own a 38-29 all-time record in the NCAA Tournament and have made four Final Four appearances (1939, 1947, 1988 and 2002), three Elite Eight showings and five Sweet 16 appearances.