Oklahoma, Oklahoma State hoops fired up for Bedlam
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — The Oklahoma-Oklahoma State intrastate basketball game has more riding on it than usual, with both teams ranked in the Top 25.
The matchup Saturday will be just the second time in 20 meetings that both teams are ranked, and it’s created some buzz on the Oklahoma campus.
“They’re pumped up,” Oklahoma junior guard Buddy Hield said of the student body. “They’re talking about coming out and sleeping out in tents. That’s the first time I’ve heard that since I’ve been here.”
Adding to the intensity, the Oklahoma State football team erased a late deficit against Oklahoma and won 38-35 in overtime.
“When I was at Wal-Mart, a couple of people told me, ‘We need this Oklahoma State win ‘cause they got us in football, and we need to bounce back and get a W,’” said Sooners forward TaShawn Thomas.
Both teams are trying to recover from losses, and neither wants a third conference defeat this early. No. 24 Oklahoma State (12-4, 2-2 Big 12) lost at No. 9 Kansas 67-57 on Tuesday.
No. 18 Oklahoma (11-5, 2-2 Big 12) opened the conference season with back-to-back double-digit wins over ranked squads Baylor and Texas, but followed with losses to Kansas State and West Virginia.
Both teams have a pair of dynamic scorers — Oklahoma State with Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, and Oklahoma with Hield and Thomas.
Oklahoma State’s duo makes up the two top scorers in the Big 12. Nash, who was a third option behind Smart and Brown last year, now leads the conference with 17.9 points per game. Forte, mostly a spot-up shooter last season, is one of the stars now. He ranks second in the conference with 17.8 points per game, and has scored at least 20 points in four of his past five games.
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said both have adjusted well to their increased responsibilities.
“That’s their role now, is to be much more aggressive to score, and they’ve done that very well,” Kruger said. “Their team’s playing very well and with a lot of confidence, knowing their roles well. It starts with Nash and Forte, for sure, but they’ve got other good players around them, too.”
Hield has rounded out his game this season. The guard is averaging a league-best 21.3 points during conference games while spearheading a much improved defense. Thomas, who transferred from the University of Houston before this season, is averaging 11.6 points and 5.9 rebounds. Those numbers are up to 14.0 points and 8.3 rebounds during conference play.
Little was expected of the Cowboys after Marcus Smart and Markel Brown moved on to the NBA. But the Cowboys are off to an impressive start that includes a win over then-No. 10 Texas last Saturday.
Forte said the Cowboys win because they have an edge and they focus on team.
“I just think we’re real unselfish,” he said. “We may not win every game, but I don’t think playing hard or selfishness will ever be a problem. We just want to win. Whether it’s scoring 80 points, 60 points — whoever’s got the hot hand, we’re trying to find him, and we’re just going to try to scratch and claw our way to a win.”
A victory would be Oklahoma State’s first in Norman since 2004.
“It’s a tough game, it’s a rivalry game,” Forte said. “Everyone knows what that means. It’s a tough place to play. We have to match their intensity. They play a really aggressive, really fast and physical style of play, so we have to try and match that.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP