Lon Kruger has a respected history at Kansas State as both a player and a coach for the Wildcats. One thing that he had not done until Saturday was coach against his alma mater in Manhattan. So you would think that returning home so to speak would be something Coach Kruger would be a bit emotional about. Wrong! Oklahoma's basketball coach was all about business on Saturday and came away with his first road victory in conference play.
"Important but I did not think that much about it. The players are not aware of where I went to school so it is insignificant. When the game started it was really good to see the players do what they did together and keep hanging in there. In the second half they did not have much going. Kansas State took the lead and (Steven) Pledger made a couple shots that allowed us to play with that margin the rest of the way. But it was nice to see a lot of friends, a lot of faces that are very familiar and very friendly." - Coach Kruger after the game on returning to Manhattan.
This game was all about shooting guard Steven Pledger who's shoulders the Sooners rode to victory on. He scored 30 points in 33 minutes of playing time by shooting 11-17 from the floor (4-7 from long range) and 4-4 from the free throw line. Not only was he the only player to make a three-point shot on Saturday, he was the only player to attempt more than one. How big was Pledger's game to Oklahoma? His 11 made baskets were more than any other Sooner's shot attempts. Romero Osby and Same Grooms were the closest with nine shots each. It was the closest thing to a one man show that you'll find and on this day it worked for OU.
Pledge did have a little help though. Cameron Clark was the only other player to score in double figures and his 11 points were complimented by a team high 7 rebounds. In a near perfect performance by a point guard Same Grooms dished out seven assists while collecting three steals and only turning the ball over once. Back up guard Carl Blair recorded a team high four steals.
This was a game about overcoming for the Sooners who were close last Saturday to picking up their first conference road win before falling to Texas A&M in overtime. This time Oklahoma was able to hold it together in spite of a hostile crowd, a back and forth game and serious foul trouble. Just taking a quick glance at the conference standings would lead the casual observer to think that this is the same Oklahoma team we've seen over the past two seasons. However, to the fan who actually watches the games its abundantly clear that last year's squad or even the year before would have had no shot to win this game.
This game featured three ties and four lead changes. The Sooners were outscored 12-8 in the paint and 9-4 off the bench and out rebounded 33-29. Yet they fought back in the second half to pull out a win thanks to the 20 turnovers they forced and...oh yeah...Steven Pledger.
Is this team ready to go dancing in the NCAA? Nope, not yet but they are showing undeniable improvement and made Coach Kruger's return to Kansas State a reason to smile.
By the way...if you ever run into officials Rick Randall, Terry Davis and Bret Smith you can congratulate them on being the worst basketball officiating crew in the Big XII if not the entire nation.