When Oklahoma takes the floor Wednesday night at Lloyd Noble Center to host West Virginia in the Sooner men's final home game of the season, they will do so in the knowledge that one of their chief goals this season - to make it back to the NCAA Tournament after a three-year absence - is all but certain at this late point in the season. But this team still has some goals in front of it, which means that coach Lon Kruger's squad is not about to consider its season's work thus far as a fait accompli.
Saturday's victory over Iowa State was an important one on several fronts. It not only equaled the score against a quality conference opponent that had soundly beaten the Sooners in the first encounter this season between the two schools, but it also placed OU in good position to finish in fourth place, ahead of the Cyclones in the regular-season standings, assured the Sooners of their first winning season in Big 12 play in four years and, most importantly, all but assured them of a spot in the Big Dance, beginning the week after next.
"It's a good start," Kruger said. As far back as last year at this time, this group had an objective of not just making progress, but big strides, and they've done that, he said.
"We said back in October this is a process. We gotta work. We can't be too satisfied until it's all over," the Sooner coach said.
With two very winnable games remaining in the 2012-13 regular season, Oklahoma will be shooting to end up with 12 wins and a 12-6 record in conference action, which potentially could put the Sooners in a third-place tie, depending on what Oklahoma State does in its final two games. At the very least, the Sooners should finish no worse that fourth in the league and post just their third season of 12 or more league wins over the past decade.
If the Sooners get by West Virginia for the third time this season and follow that up in the season finale at TCU on Saturday, as they are favored to do, they will reach the 20-win mark overall for the fifth time in 10 seasons, but the first time since 2008-09.
As John Shinn pointed out in an article this week in the Edmond (Oklahoma) Sun, since the NCAA Tournament expanded its field to 64 teams in 1985, every OU team with a winning conference record has received an invite to the Big Dance. If you are counting, that's 20 out of 28 years.
Here are some other interesting numbers that are a big reason why the Sooners have won five of their last seven games in their journey to the tourney:
3 - When OU and West Virginia play Wednesday night, it will be the third time they have met this season. The Sooners won 77-70 over the Mountaineers in the Old Spice Classic in November and defeated WVU again on the road, 67-57, in the conference opener for both teams in early January.
17.2 - Senior Romero Osby's scoring average in Big 12 play, second in the conference behind Pierre Jackson (18.8) of Baylor and ahead of Kansas' Ben McLemore (17.1).
34 - The number of consecutive free throws made by OU in the second half in their 17-point win over Iowa State on Saturday. The Sooners are now shooting 76 percent for the year from the charity stripe, which ranks 11th nationally. The school record is 76.7 percent, achieved by the 2001-02 Final Four team.
45 - Field goal percentage by the Sooners through 16 conference games, third best in the Big 12 behind Kansas State and Kansas. OU has outshot its opponents (i.e., better shooting percentage) in seven straight games (five of them wins) and in 13 of its 16 league games.
82 - Oklahoma's team scoring average over its last seven games. In the six games prior to that, the Sooners were scoring just 62.5 points per game. In its last four games -wins over Texas Tech, Baylor and Iowa State and a heartbreaking overtime loss at Texas - OU has averaged 87.5 points per game..
154 - How many minutes it has been since the Oklahoma men last trailed in a game at Lloyd Noble Center. OU never trailed in wins over TCU, Baylor and Iowa State. The Sooners last trailed at home in the early going against Kansas on Feb. 9, when Kansas led 14-13.
242 - Number of career three-pointer field goals made by senior Steven Pledger in his four seasons at Oklahoma. With four made three-point shots on Saturday vs. Iowa State, Pledger passed former former All-Big 12 player Hollis Price for second place on the Sooners all-time three-point list. Terry Evans (1990-93) is first with 259.
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