KANSAS CITY — Look at all the big names who have played the Sprint Center here. Elton John, Madonna, Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga and now on this important evening... Trae Young?
THE BIG 12 CHRONICLES: CHAPTER 2
In the end, they were two teams passing in the night.
Oklahoma State is trending steadily up, frantically trying to find the escape door off the bubble, and into the NCAA tournament bracket.
The heady days of the non-conference season, when Young was a must-see phenom and 14-2 Oklahoma was rolling up the top 10, are history. Now the Sooners have lost eight of their past 10 games — the last five by double digits — and are 18-13 overall. Now Young can score 22 points as he did Wednesday night, and it doesn’t matter.
Can you actually plunge from No. 4 in the nation to the NIT in eight weeks? The Sooners have four anxious days until they find out.
“Instead of us taking care of business, we left it the committee’s hands,” Young said. He mentioned the Sooners’ demanding schedule. The trip to Wichita State, and to California to take on USC. Games against Oregon and Arkansas. “And then we played in the toughest conference in America. So I think our resume speaks for itself.”
Yeah, but it’s speaking now in a lot of different voices, including eight losses since Feb. 3.
So which is it, coach Lon Kruger, comfortable or concerned?
“Well, it’s irrelevant,” he said of his feelings. “We didn’t take care of our business here, so we don’t have any say in that at this point.”
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Not when the Sooners were blowing through December, and Young was the face of the sport.
Meanwhile, this might have been the golden ticket the 19-13 Cowboys were looking for. They have swept Kansas, beaten Texas Tech and West Virginia and Florida State. Enough?
“We’ve obviously played our best basketball in the last 2 ½ weeks,” coach Mike Boynton said. “Not that that should mean more than the rest of the season, but I don’t think we played poorly at any point of the year.
“We play in the toughest league in America, and now we have nine wins against that competition. We’ll see.”
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Desperation is not pretty. Neither team could shoot 40 percent. There were moments each side looked as if it was trying to handle the ball with oven mitts. But there was clear numerical evidence of the Cowboys’ sense of urgency — the astonishing 53-27 gap in rebounding, including 18-5 on the offensive end, which led to a 19-2 drubbing of the Sooners in second chance points.
“You can’t get outrebounded like that and expect to win,” Young said.
“We tried to make a conscious effort to be the hardest-playing team for 40 minutes today, and I feel like we accomplished that,” Boynton said.
An entirely fair summation, Kruger admitted. “Anytime you get whipped on the boards like that . . . the stats speak for themselves in that way.”
Then there was the Oklahoma fast break in the second half, just when the Sooners were making a surge. Young tried to lob inside for a momentum-inflaming dunk, but instead Oklahoma State’s Mitchell Solomon blew it up by devouring the pass. Turned out to be the last Oklahoma gasp. “I knew I had to put a stop to it,” Solomon said.
Those are words of will. Oklahoma State was clawing for every possession. So just how much bubble desperation was Boynton feeling before Wednesday night?
“None. I don’t operate that way. For people who have been around me, I just control the things I can control.
“I don’t know if you have to have a mindset of getting to the tournament to come out and play hard. We have to be who we are every day. We came here to win the Big 12 tournament, and we’ll worry about whatever is next week when next week comes.”
The Cowboys, who never trailed on this pivotal night, looked like an NCAA tournament team. The Sooners, not so much.