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OU basketball: Sooners 'confident' in March Madness run, hopes 'still in reach' for NCAA Tournament

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Lon Kruger

Head coach Lon Kruger talks to the Sooners during the season finale against No. 15 Texas on March 4.

Entering Selection Sunday, De’Vion Harmon wasn’t thinking about Oklahoma losing five of its last six games or being picked as a No. 8 seed just weeks after being projected as high as a No. 3.

Instead, the sophomore guard was thinking about OU’s trip to Indianapolis, staying tight with his teammates in the NCAA Tournament bubble and returning home after April 5, the date of the national championship. Harmon’s set for his first career NCAA Tournament after the 2020 event was canceled due to COVID-19.

The Sooners (15-10, 9-8 Big 12) will take on No. 9 seeded Missouri (16-9, 8-8 SEC) on Saturday, March 20 in Indianapolis. Despite having five wins over top-15 ranked opponents this season, Oklahoma struggled at the end of its regular season and during its conference tournament. Although it lost five of its last six games, four of which came against teams seeded No. 4 or above in the NCAA Tournament. OU hopes for a clean slate heading into postseason play. 

“We gotta go hoop,” Harmon said. “Every other team is doing it, so we gotta go do that. When it comes to the tournament, it’s win or go home. All you gotta do is win that day. You win that day, you move on.”

Senior and All-Big 12 First Team guard Austin Reaves said the team still has plenty of confidence. After a rough first half, the Sooners showed poise during the second half against Kansas in the Big 12 Championship quarterfinals on March 11, when they scored 47 points and shot 58.6 percent from the field.

“Everything that we work for moving forward is still in reach,” said Reaves, who leads Oklahoma in points, rebounds and assists per game this season. “We can still do those things that we were talking about the first of the season, midseason and even when we went on this losing streak. 

“We still believe we can do those things, it’s really just staying together, being prepared and really just playing as hard as we possibly can every possession to make those dreams and aspirations come true. I feel like that’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna go down there and give it everything we have.”

OU's largest loss since Jan. 6 was seven points against Kansas. The Sooners lost by just four points twice to No. 4 seed Oklahoma State and once to No. 3 seed Texas during their 4-game losing streak before beating Iowa State in the play-in game of the Big 12 Tournament. 

Oklahoma’s track record of staying in close games but losing could be beneficial in the tournament if it can improve its play in crunch time. Reaves took eight of the Sooners’ last nine shots against Kansas last week, missing six shots, two free-throws and committing two turnovers during the span. 

On the other hand, when OU became the third team in NCAA history to win four top-10 games in a month during January, it won by an average of 4.25 points in each win.

“The margin between winning and losing is so slight,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “I mean, we get a stop and one bucket in any of those last four games prior to the conference tournament, we win those just like we won those games a month prior.”

With a win on Saturday against Missouri, Oklahoma will likely face the No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga, barring a loss to the two lowest ranked teams in the tournament according to the NCAA committee. But the Sooners think they’re primed for a tournament run and a fresh start in the postseason.

“We got confidence that we can go in and play with anybody,” Reaves said. “It’s really just about how we approach the game and attack each possession.”

Austin Curtright is a journalism sophomore and The Daily's senior sports reporter. He currently covers OU men's basketball and has previously covered OU softball and soccer.

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