MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

OU

January 19, 2013

Focus shifts from Sooners’ coach to game

NORMAN – The major storyline in Oklahoma’s last trip to Kansas State centered on its coach’s past. Lon Kruger is one of the most decorated players in Wildcats history along with being a former coach.

After Oklahoma’s 81-63 victory over Texas Tech on Wednesday at Lloyd Noble Center, the present has much more significance.

The Sooners (12-3, 3-0 Big 12) can match their longest conference winning streak since 2009 with a victory today at Bramlage Coliseum. The 16th-ranked Wildcats (14-2, 3-0) can win their eighth straight.

Kruger wants to focus on the teams and the huge game they’ll play today. Coaching against his alma mater in its own arena is something he did for the first time last season.

The novelty of it was hard for anyone to ignore. Even with the Sooners’ claiming a 63-60 victory, Kruger wasn’t comfortable with the attention being placed on him. He was ready for it to go away.

“I think that fades with each year,” Kruger said Thursday. “It’s an important Big 12 game for both teams.”

It’s the biggest one OU has played in several seasons because of the potential ramifications. Besides another possible conference win, this one has the potential to vault the Sooners into the Top 25 for the first time since November of 2009. A team that has flown under the radar has the chance to get on the screen. It’s been so long since that’s been the case that only seniors Steven Pledger and Andrew Fitzgerald have been part of an OU team that was ranked.  

Getting OU back to that level is where Kruger’s focus lies.

“We are playing better basketball right now and the challenge is to keep doing that and everything else will take care of itself,” he said. “We need to focus on playing better each possession and certainly you have to do that especially on the road in a tough place.”

The Sooners know exactly how tough it is to win at Kansas State. Last season’s victory there completed a regular-season sweep of the Wildcats. There’s no doubt, it was the most surprising win the program has enjoyed in several seasons. Players admitted the motivation of playing for Kruger in that environment gave them an edge last season.

It was still around as the Sooners started prepping for the Wildcats on Thursday.

“We talked about it as a team before practice today,” said OU guard Sam Grooms. “We want to win it for coach again, so he can have bragging rights. It’s his home; it’s where he did all his work before.

“We want to win to get to 4-0 in the conference, but we still want to win it for coach, too.”

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