After embarrassing loss, Sooners reel off wins over 3 top foes Print
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Tuesday, 01 January 2008 01:48
NCAAB Headline News


 NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -Oklahoma's players received the text message from coach Jeff Capel about 9 p.m. on Dec. 8, informing them of a 12:01 a.m. practice he scheduled after the Sooners' stunning loss at home hours earlier to Stephen F. Austin.
``We didn't respect the game of basketball with how we came out to play,'' Capel told The Associated Press. ``I was embarrassed. I was angry. I was hurt and I wanted our guys to feel that way. ... I didn't think we worked hard earlier that day and we needed to get some work in.''
Capel said the spur-of-the-moment practice was intended to send a message to the Sooners that mediocrity would not be tolerated within the Oklahoma program, which had been a Top 25 fixture under Capel's immediate predecessors, Billy Tubbs and Kelvin Sampson.
Consider the message received.
After the 66-62 loss to Stephen F. Austin, the Sooners won 83-72 on Dec. 15 in Norman against an Arkansas team then on the cusp of the Top 25. Five days later, Oklahoma beat then-No. 18 Gonzaga 72-68 during the All-College Classic in Oklahoma City.
The Sooners followed that with an 88-82 double-overtime win on Saturday against then-No. 23 West Virginia, which, while not technically a true road game for the Sooners, was played in hostile environs in Charleston, W.Va.
Those three wins have propelled the Sooners from an afterthought back into the national conversation. Oklahoma (10-3) received 46 points in balloting for the AP poll on Monday, putting the Sooners three spots out of the Top 25 - their best placement during Capel's two seasons at the helm.
What has changed? Capel said the Sooners now are playing with urgency. Junior guard Austin Johnson noted how the team's attitude received a major adjustment.
``Losing a game like that, you can either use that to build on, or you can go downhill from there,'' Johnson said.
That midnight practice wasn't enjoyable, Johnson said, but he learned something valuable from it.
``That practice showed me how good we can be,'' he said. ``It showed me that losing to a team like that, it can't happen, but it can also be a positive for us.''
That, Capel said, is exactly what he wanted the Sooners to figure out.
``They understand how much we need each other,'' he said. ``We don't have one guy that can kind of take us to the mountaintop or one guy we want to rely on. This team is most effective when you have five people out there playing together as one.''
Indeed, during the winning streak, many players have made key plays. Senior center Longar Longar had a pair of late dunks to cap a 17-point outing against Arkansas. With the Sooners up two in the final seconds against Gonzaga, Johnson blocked a 3-point attempt by Jeremy Pargo to preserve the win.
Against West Virginia, freshman forward Blake Griffin had 18 points and 16 rebounds, senior guard David Godbold had 18 points and Longar had 22 points, despite playing just 5 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
But the biggest shot of the game for Oklahoma was a 3-pointer by Tony Crocker with 6.6 seconds left in the first overtime that forced another extra period. Then Godbold and Keith Clark each hit a pair of free throws in the final 20 seconds of the second overtime.
``We know we're capable of doing a lot of good things,'' said Longar, who is averaging 13.4 points per game. ``It's just a matter of everybody coming together. We've been doing that the last three games. We really like each other as a team. We stay around each other all the time and we're building a great chemistry.''
M and James Anderson of Oklahoma State, among others.
``I wouldn't trade him for any of them,'' Capel said of Griffin, who leads the Sooners with averages of 13.5 points and 8.9 rebounds. ``I think he's going to be as good or better than all of them in the long run.''
Oklahoma's other two losses have come to Memphis and Southern Cal, both of which are in the Top 25. The Sooners have two more nonconference games, against Rice on Jan. 5 and Mount St. Mary's two days later, before opening Big 12 Conference play at home against Kansas State on Jan. 12.
Capel said that while he still wishes Oklahoma had beaten Stephen F. Austin, the loss to the Lumberjacks has proven to be a turning point for his team.
``Just like anything in life, sometimes the best lessons you learn are when you fail, because then you really get a better idea of maybe just how much something means to you and how much more committed you have to be if you want to be successful,'' Capel said.
``I don't know if we win these three games if we beat Stephen F. Austin.''
 

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