CNHI News Service
STILLWATER – The last time Oklahoma State and rival Oklahoma faced off in the Bedlam Series in Norman, the Cowboys suffered their second of three road losses to open Big 12 Conference play.
That won’t be the same team the Sooners will see today when OSU – which held a “Dedication Week” to refocus on the basics following the Bedlam loss – hosts the series at Gallagher-Iba Arena (12:30 p.m., KMYT).
“We’re more disciplined and back on track to where we need to be defensively,” OSU redshirt sophomore forward Michael Cobbins said. “Everybody’s back to the level we know we can play at – just playing Cowboy basketball.”
Since that loss in Norman, in which Oklahoma State was abysmal shooting from the field – including a 0-for-9 performance from 3-point range in the decisive second half – the Cowboys have won seven of their last eight, including six straight. Among the winning streak for OSU has been three road games – as many Big 12 road wins in the past three years combined and the most since the 2008-2009 season – with a marquee upset of then No. 1-ranked Kansas.
“I hope we’ve improved a lot,” OSU coach Travis Ford said. “We didn’t play well and a lot of that had to do with Oklahoma. But I’m hopeful and think we are a better team, and I think Oklahoma is a better team.”
Cobbins has been one of those players who has been playing more consistently for the Cowboys. They have also been getting some big games from freshman point guard Marcus Smart and junior guard Markel Brown.
But possibly one of the biggest changes for OSU of late has been the return of defensive threat Brian Williams, who wasn’t even expected to play this season after a wrist injury before the season. Williams has played in four games since the OU loss, and while he is averaging just 11 minutes, he is giving Ford another fresh player off the bench – especially on the defensive end.
“Brian clamps down and locks up on defense. He gives us more pressure in practice, which prepares us for the games,” Cobbins said. “When he gets into the game, he brings energy off the bench and just locks people down on defense.”
The sudden surge from Oklahoma State, coupled with struggles by KU following the loss to OSU, has the Pokes sitting atop the Big 12 standings along with Kansas and Kansas State.
“No matter who is where in the standings, it’s always a tough game when we play OU. When the ball’s tipped in the air, we’ve got to show which team is better,” Brown said.
For the Sooners, they’ve managed to keep themselves in the Big 12 Conference race by winning five of nine since that 77-68 victory over the Cowboys on Jan. 12 at Lloyd Noble Center.
No. 17 OSU (18-5, 8-3 Big 12), well, it has won seven of its last eight since Bedlam’s first act of 2013. The team that seemed to be teetering in mid January is now towering atop the Big 12 along with Kansas and Kansas State.
“They’ve won a lot of games and are playing very well,” OU coach Lon Kruger said.
The courses both teams have been on have made today’s 12:30 p.m. meeting at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater the mostly highly anticipated Bedlam game in several years.
OU (16-7, 7-4) hasn’t faced a ranked OSU team since 2007. The Cowboys haven’t faced an OU squad in the thick of the conference race since 2009.
In this case, change is very good for Bedlam. The modifications the Sooners have had to make since the first meeting, however, are the kind that are hard to predict.
Today will be OU’s first game without freshman guard Buddy Hield. He suffered a broken bone in his right foot in Monday’s win over TCU.
Hield’s injury is the first serious hit of bad luck the Sooners have faced all season. The urge they have to fight is altering who they are because of Hield’s absence.
There’s no arguing that some things have to change. Hield had an immense impact on the Sooners’ victory over the Cowboys. He scored 15 points and had five assists in the game.
Je’lon Hornbeak will get the start in his place. He wasn’t an afterthought in the first Bedlam meeting either. Hornbeak was 3 for 3 from the field and finished with eight points in a game he started.
He’ll be in the starting lineup again today. This time, he’ll be on the wing instead of point guard. OU has moved freshman Isaiah Cousins into that spot and he’s played well the last three games.
Hornbeak, however, can’t be a Hield clone. OU wants him to be a more consistent version of what he has been in the last few games.
“I have to keep the same mindset,” Hornbeak said. “I have to keep being aggressive offensively and defensively.”
The same can be said for junior forward Cameron Clark, who is going to see his minutes increase today and the rest of the season. Clark had been earning more time before Hield’s injury. He’s scored 35 points in the last four games and has shot 16 for 25 from the field.
“We’re a man short in the rotation and someone will have to step up and play those minutes really well,” Kruger said. “That’s the value of depth; those guys have played well all year.”
The critical secret to Bedlam has never been getting certain players to produce epic performances. More often than not, winning comes down to which team can be the most consistent.
OU was that team back in January. It’s still in the race for the Big 12 title because of it. The Cowboys are at the top of the standings for that very reason, too.
The Sooners know their roles for Bedlam’s second act. To do what you’ve been doing a little better has been a winning formula for the Sooners.
“We’re not going to ask those guys to do anything different from what they’ve already done,” Kruger said. “Je’lon’s played pretty well the last two ball games and Cam has been playing well for a while. They’re just going to have more minutes to do the same things.”