Winning ugly

WACO, Texas — The first thing to notice about the Ferrell Center is the amount of green everywhere.

The seats are green. The cushions around the basketball hoops are green. The symbol in the middle of the hardwood is green. And most of the folks there for the game dress like it’s St. Paddy’s Day.

The second thing to notice is the banners.

Every college basketball program of note has banners hanging from the ceiling. But at the Ferrell, they surround you. They hang in a perfect circle all around the arena. I didn’t count them all because once I got to 17 I got the point.

Now, yes, of course, many of those banners belong to the women’s program, but that doesn’t make any less impressive, any less intimidating, even if you’re there for a men’s game. And I was. I was there to watch the No. 12 Baylor Bears play the No. 25 Oklahoma Sooners and then write a story about it.

***

Baylor coach Scott Drew sized up the final of possession of the game after losing 66-64 to Oklahoma. The win was the first by OU on the road against a team ranked in the top 12 of the Associated Press poll since Feb. 17, 1993. That was when OU beat No. 6 Kansas 80-77 in Lawrence, Kan.

He liked the way the Bears had defended. And in truth, they’d played defense well enough to win the game. OU shot just 39 percent from the floor and miserably from 3-point land (26.9 percent).

In the first half alone, the Sooners made just 7-of-30 shot attempts. Again, that’s 7-of-30 — 23.3 percent. Predictably, most of those makes came form inside the 3-point line. The Sooners managed to splash just one their 13 attempts in the first half from beyond the arc. Baylor’s zone was killing OU.

Though Drew’s team had beaten the Sooners on the boards, 37-35, he was disappointed in Baylor’s rebounding performance. This you can hardly blame him for. Baylor is bigger and stronger than OU.

Sophomore forward Rico Gathers stands 6-foot-8 and weighs 270 pounds. Cory Jefferson is 6-foot-9, 225. Isaiah Austin is 7-foot-1, 225. OU has just one man on its roster that is even in the same height and weight category as those fellas, and that’s Ryan Spangler. Yes, Spangler has days where can take over a game, but that’s not what happened today.

He scored seven points, which is four points below his average this season. He grabbed nine rebounds, which is right at his average this year.

Clark has become one of the best scorers in the Big 12 after three years of never playing the kind of caliber of basketball many thought he could. But he didn’t take over this game, not by himself anyway, with just 14 points.

Buddy Hield got hot for about 10 minutes, and, as happens when Energizer Buddy gets hot, the whole of the team got hot. 19 points from him all in the second half probably did more to seal the game for the Sooners and steal it from the Bears than anything else they did offensively.

That’s what got the Sooners to winning time, those seconds when the game is on the line and either team and any player on the court has a chance to go out and take a victory rather than hope the other team gives it to you.

In winning time, Baylor had one last opportunity to win the game. The ball was in their hands, and the Bears couldn’t even get a shot off with 9.1 seconds left to play. Quite honestly, though, if Baylor could’ve hit shots instead shooting 41 percent from the floor and 6-of-20 from beyond the 3-point line, the Bears might’ve won the game. But no one needed to tell Drew that.

“If we knew how to make it always go in, we’d do that,” Drew said. “Tried magnets, but they don’t work.”

***

This was the kind of game that told more about OU than it did Baylor. Baylor’s used to being a ranked team, used to being picked to win games against ranked opponents.

The Sooners are used to playing the underdog role, especially during Big 12 play. It’s only in the last couple of years that the Sooners have begun to win more games than they lose after January each year.

Two years ago, with the game still in the balance and winning time approaching, the Sooners would’ve wilted. They would’ve realized the score of the game, and their emotions, their doubts, would have gotten the best of them.

Last year, there was a breakthrough though. There was the win at home against No. 5 Kansas, and there was the win at home against a good Oklahoma State squad. But on the road? Against a ranked opponent? Last year? Forget it.

Then the Sooners won in Austin, Texas, for the first time in eight years. Then they beat a top 10 Iowa State team. And after dropping two games — one against Kansas at home, the other against Kansas State away — they came to another character game today.

In a hostile environment and trailing by six at halftime, the Sooners summoned the will to fight. What’s more? In the waning seconds of the game, surrounded by all that green, all those banners overhead and all those folks screaming at the top of their lungs, they showed the will to win — and win ugly.

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