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SPORTS: University of Oklahoma

Sooners Facing Uphill Battle In Stillwater On Saturday

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

Five weeks ago, the Oklahoma Sooners made a Bedlam win over Oklahoma State in Norman look fairly simple. The Sooners out-toughed the Cowboys, smothered the Oklahoma State offense, and eliminated freshman star Marcus Smart from the game thanks to foul trouble.

Fast forward to the eve of Bedlam part two in Stillwater Saturday afternoon and it appears the tables have turned. Oklahoma State comes in winners of six consecutive games and one of the hottest teams in the country. The Cowboys have been playing extremely well of late and welcomed the return of guard Brian Williams from a wrist injury.

Oklahoma on the other hand is plenty hot in its own right, having knocked off Kansas in Norman last Saturday. However, in OU's romp over TCU Monday night, the Sooners lost freshman guard Buddy Hield to a broken bone in his foot. Replacing his production on offense and defense will be a key in Saturday's game.

"He's so energetic on the sideline, we don't lose that edge he gives us," freshman Je'lon Hornbeak said. "We do lose him and he is a key part of us defensively, but he also gets everybody up to play defense so I'm pretty sure we'll be able to respond."

The Sooners had a lot of positives from their Jan. 12 win over the Cowboys, but head coach Lon Kruger said he won't put too much stock into a game that happened five weeks ago.

"You always watch the previous game," Kruger said. "When you play someone, you always go back and break down what worked for them, what worked for us. More important is three or four games prior. That's what you really focus your attention on and they're playing very good basketball."

Very good basketball would be an understatement. During the Cowboys' six-game winning streak, Oklahoma State knocked off Kansas on the road and defeated Iowa State and Baylor in tight games at home. Smart has been the leader during the streak, doing it all for Oklahoma State, a team that has improved drastically over the past month.

"I think individually they're playing five weeks improved and five weeks more experienced," Kruger said. "They're playing with confidence. A lot of guys, when you win ball games and play well, it really promotes better play and they're doing that."

Stopping Smart is the obvious key that's easier said than done, and OU can't count on him to get into foul trouble like he did in Norman.

"Not much else has worked," Kruger joked. "He's had such a great year and he's impacted the game in so many different ways. Foul trouble here certainly burdened him a little bit, but you can't bank on that."

Not only do the Sooners have to worry about Smart, but they also have to worry about guard Markel Brown. Brown has been shooting lights out during the Cowboy's winning streak, draining 7-of-8 3-pointers in Wednesday night's blowout win over Texas Tech.

"Markel is just a scorer," forward Cameron Clark said. "We're just going to have to find him and challenge him and not give him easy baskets or easy looks."

The Sooners beat Oklahoma State the first time around with defense, something quickly pointed out by Hornbeak.

"That was the main thing," Hornbeak said. "Our defense limited them on second chance points and pushing the ball in transition. We really moved the ball well and got the defense rotating and got a lot of open shots that we knocked down."

It appears the Sooners are walking into a lion's den Saturday in Stillwater. Gallagher-Iba Arena is sold out and the crowd is sure to be fired up for one of the first meaningful Bedlam games in several years. The Sooners have performed well on the road this season, going 4-4 to this point. Keeping composure in Stillwater will be the key.

"We just have to stay calm," Clark said. "Everyone goes on runs. Oklahoma State, they've got a lot of good people that can go out there and get buckets. We're going to have to hold our composure and just play hard."

Saturday's matchup will be between teams in completely different circumstances. OSU is looking to continue its hot play while the Sooners are trying to figure out what it looks like to play without one of their best players. The result on Saturday should tell us a lot about how the teams will fare the rest of the season.

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