FORT WORTH, Texas — No. 23 Oklahoma is already going into this postseason on a much better note — and as the No. 2 tournament seed in arguably the nation’s top conference.
Buddy Hield scored 24 points and the Sooners clinched the No. 2 seed in next week’s Big 12 tournament with a 97-67 victory Saturday at TCU, the league’s first team in 10 years to go through the regular season without winning a conference game.
“A lot of guys right now are playing with a high level of confidence. They’ve got good focus right now,” coach Lon Kruger said. “They’ve made good progress, consistently throughout. The last three weeks especially, probably playing their best basketball.”
Last season the Sooners lost their regular-season finale at TCU. They then dropped their Big 12 tournament opener against Iowa State, a week before losing its first NCAA tourney game to San Diego State.
“They know how tough it is, the journey that is ahead, and looking forward with excitement,” Kruger said.
Isaiah Cousins and Cameron Clark had 18 points each for the Sooners (23-8, 12-6 Big 12), who have won five of their last six games. Ryan Spangler added 10 points.
“It does feel different (than last year),” Hield said. “We’re still hungry. We’ve still got something to prove to everybody, and we’re just trying to go and win basketball games.”
Injury-plagued TCU (9-21, 0-18) won nine of its last 10 games before beginning Big 12 play. The Horned Frogs lost their league opener 74-69 to West Virginia, but that ended up being one of only three conference games they lost by single digits — and none were closer.
The last Big 12 team to go without a league win was Texas A&M during the 2003-04 season, when the Aggies were 0-16. That is the same mark Baylor had in 1998-99.
“This is group has never stopped playing,” second-year TCU coach Trent Johnson said. “ We’re not very talented and we’re not very deep and we’ve been banged up. Those aren’t excuses, but these kids continue to fight.”
TCU plays seventh-seeded Baylor, which has won seven of its last eight games, in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament on Wednesday night in Kansas City. The winner of that game plays the next night against Oklahoma.
The Horned Frogs went 2-16 in Big 12 games in their league debut last season. The other win besides Oklahoma was against then-No. 5 Kansas.
But there wouldn’t be another upset in the final game at Daniel Meyer Coliseum before the arena undergoes a $59 million renovation that will force the Frogs to play their home games off campus next season.
Jarvis Ray, one of two TCU seniors in their final home game, matched his career high with 18 points. Kyan Anderson, a junior guard and one of only four Horned Frogs to play in every game this season, added 17 points.
After four ties and five lead changes in the first 5 minutes of the game Saturday, Oklahoma took control with a 14-3 run in which five different players scored.
“Our guys opened the game with pretty good focus,” Kruger said. “A lot of guys played well.”
Clark passed inside to Spangler for a reverse layup that put the Sooners up 11-10 and started the go-ahead 4-minute spurt. Hield had a 3-pointer from the left wing and followed a TCU miss with another basket.
When Tyler Neal made a 3-pointer with 11 1/2 minutes left in the half, the Sooners were up 23-13, their first double-digit lead.
Hield made a 3-pointer from the right corner at the end of the first half for a 53-38 lead, and had a 3 that started a 7-0 run to open the second half.
Of the 16 players on TCU’s roster, six were sitting on the end of the bench in white TCU polo shirts instead of uniforms.
The non-playing group included two big men who sustained season-ending knee injuries during a team trip to Canada in August — 6-foot-10 center Aaron Durley and 6-8 junior forward Devonta Abron. Durley arrived as a highly touted freshman two years ago who hasn’t played a game yet because of two different knee injuries.
There were also two transfers, another player sitting out for academics, and Amric Fields, the 6-9 junior who missed most of last season with a knee injury and averaged 13.1 points in the 18 games he played this season before not playing the last five games.
“It’s real unfortunate for those two who are seniors, that they won’t be around when this team looks like the team that just beat us,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be good eventually. We’re going to win some games, this thing is going to get turned.”