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Oklahoma Basketball in the NCAA Tournament: Sooners topped in the second round by Gonzaga, 87-71

If it’s any consolation, the Bulldogs will probably win the whole thing this year.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oklahoma at Gonzaga Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday afternoon, the 8-seeded Oklahoma Sooners were outhustled by the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs, 87-71 in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. It’s always tough to watch the good guys take that final loss, but considering their opponent was the No. 1 team in college basketball, the result is a bit easier to accept. OU ends its 2020-21 season with an overall record of 16-11.

Once again, Oklahoma was without the services of starting sophomore point guard De’Vion Harmon (COVID protocol). Unlike Saturday’s game against Mizzou, OU finally looked like a team that was missing its second-leading scorer. Senior Austin Reaves did all he could to keep his squad in the contest while he was on the floor, but after finding himself in foul trouble in the first half, Gonzaga pushed the pedal to the metal. On the day, the Big 12 All-First Team guard finished with 27 points (11-17 FG, 4-4 FT), two rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Big man Kur Kuath was Oklahoma’s unsung hero of the game. While he only logged two points and one rebound, the senior stood tall in the paint and tied a career-high off the bench with five massive blocks.

Senior forward Brady Manek sparked some early madness for the Sooners who built a 12-4 lead over the Bulldogs in the game’s opening minutes. However, that lead would quickly evaporate as the Zags were able to seize control of the pace on a number of fast-break opportunities. GU’s first half avalanche came to a temporary halt as the intermission buzzer sounded. Oklahoma trailed, 46-34.

The second half picked up practically right where the first half left off, with Gonzaga running away with the lead. The Bulldogs’ leads ballooned to as high as 19 points, but down the stretch, Reaves put on his superhero cape and willed his team back into the game. The Sooners closed the once-huge gap and made it a nine-point affair with two minutes remaining. Unfortunately for the Crimson & Cream, GU’s championship mettle simply proved to be too great to fully overcome.

The last few months have been a wild ride for Lon Kruger and his Oklahoma team that began the year unranked before vaulting to a No. 7 ranking in the AP Top 25. A late-season slide saw them tumble down the polls, but first round wins in the Big 12 Tournament and the Big Dance helped curb the sour taste to some extent. Time will tell how this squad looks next season, as several upperclassmen have major decisions to make on whether or not they want to return for another go-around.

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