Lon Kruger Has His Sooners On the Right TrackPosted by rtmsf on November 29th, 2012
Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League. He filed this report from Oklahoma’s visit to Oral Roberts last night in Tulsa.
While most of America was focused on the top-10 match-up in North Carolina, there was a battle going on in the heart of Oklahoma between the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles and the Oklahoma Sooners, a once-proud program that Lon Kruger is leading back into the national spotlight. The Sooners escaped in a 63-62 slugfest to improve to 5-1 on the season, but it might have been the way they won that spoke louder than their surprising record.
Facing ORU in Tulsa is no easy task. Before the contest, the Golden Eagles had won 24 straight regular season games in the Mabee Center. Scott Sutton has worked for years to give ORU a place at the table reserved for the mid-major contenders, and they nearly accomplished it with a 27-win season last year and at-large consideration. Despite the rise of ORU over the last decade, it still has not managed to climb Boomer Mountain. The Sooners had won 13 straight meetings between the two schools coming into last night’s game. Even in the leanest of years, OU found a way to top the Golden Eagles. But Wednesday night, for at least the first 33 minutes of the game, it looked like ORU was finally going to shake off that long-time losing streak. The Golden Eagles held a steady lead from early in the first half, and they pushed it to a 10-point advantage with less than seven minutes to go in the game. But this Oklahoma team is a little different than the one we are used to seeing the past few years.
This is not the same Sooner team that finished with less than 15 wins in back-to-back seasons from 2010-12, and in case you are the skeptical type, it’s not even the same team that started hot last season before fading down the stretch. The comeback in Tulsa, while facing a hostile crowd in a building that has claimed bigger giants than the Sooners, was the proof that many OU fans needed to start believing that this Lon Kruger team may have turned the corner. Even in a game where they were outplayed, OU came away with a win. “We were fortunate to learn a lot from this ballgame and still have it be in the [win] column,” said Kruger. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Sure, OU has a long way to go before they get to where they want to be. It seems like a 100 years ago since Blake Griffin was leading them to the Elite Eight, but this team has bought in to Kruger’s system and they like what they have right now. “I feel our team has a great ability to show up in the clutch,” said Amath M’Baye, who led OU with 12 points and nine rebounds. “It was a tough game, but we just battled back. I will take the win any day of the week. That’s something we need. It’s something we love.”
Kruger is no stranger to bringing struggling schools back into the national conversation. In 27 seasons he has taken 18 teams to the NCAA Tournament at six different schools. At each of the previous five stops, Kruger has made steady improvements every year and qualified for the NCAA tTournament by at least his second season there. When Kruger was hired at Oklahoma, it was for his pedigree, and wins like Wednesday is exactly what OU fans were hoping for when he took the job. Now in his second season at the helm, OU is 5-1. Don’t look now, but basketball may be alive and well in Norman once again. “We are coming off a weekend where we felt we have gotten a lot more physical and a lot more aggressive, especially on the boards,” said Kruger. “We have to understand that [this game] is about every possession every night, and we will keep learning and keep getting better.”