Know Your Foe: Oklahoma Sooners


The No. 4 Missouri mens basketball team (21-2, 8-2 Big 12) faces a quick turnaround after an emotional come-from-behind victory over the rival Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday night in Columbia. The day started off with a crowd of about 5,000 packing the east side of Mizzou Arena for ESPN’s College Gameday. The crowd was led by ESPN analyst Digger Phelps in cheers like the Missouri Waltz before taping started, and maintained great energy throughout the telecast. Then, after a day of waiting and anticipation, the main event was ready to begin.

The frenzied sellout crowd of 15,061 combined with fireworks shooting off the top of the scoreboard during pre-game introductions to blow the roof off of the arena. Mizzou led by five at halftime, but found themselves down by eight points with just over two minutes to play. That’s when senior guard Marcus Denmon (17.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG) stepped in. Denmon scored nine of his game high 29 points in a span of 68 seconds, starting out with a three point play and finishing with a go-ahead three pointer with 56 seconds to play. Michael Dixon (12.1 PPG, 2.8 APG) added two free throws to set the final score, and Mizzou ended the game on an 11-0 run to secure the home victory 74-71, the Tigers’ first victory over Kansas since 2009.

But Mizzou won’t have much time to celebrate their victory, as they travel to Norman, OK to take on the Oklahoma Sooners just two days after what may be their biggest victory of the season to date. Mizzou already knows about Oklahoma on the court at least, having already defeated the Sooners 87-49 on Jan. 3 in Columbia. Now they must go on the road in what has the makings of a textbook trap game coming off an emotional victory.

The University of Oklahoma was established in 1890 in Norman, OK following urging from the governor of the Oklahoma territory to start a higher education system in the territory. Two other schools were established at the same time, Oklahoma State in Stillwater and Central Oklahoma in Edmond, but the establishment in Norman was designated the University of Oklahoma after it was admitted to the union as a state in 1907. Students first enrolled in 1892, and a pharmacy school was established in 1893 because of a demand for pharmacists in the area.

After its establishment and Oklahoma’s admittance to the United States, OU began growing and expanding, including a grant from Oklahoma legislature of $500,000 to build a new library on campus in 1936. Enrollment dipped during World War II, a common occurrence at most universities, but exploded following the war. Enrollment rose to 17,268 by 1965, an increase of 450% from the end of World War II. Three 12-story dormitories were built to accommodate the influx of new students in the 1960s. Major expansion continued as recently as 1994 under current president David Boren. Almost $2 billion worth of construction projects have been completed or are still underway at OU since 1994.

Today OU has an enrollment of 30,303 on a campus that stretches for 3,000 acres which is divided into areas known as north, south, and main campus. North campus is home to the OU Research Park which includes an airport for students at the College of Aviation at North Base and several other research facilities. South campus features many student housing buildings, as well as most of OU’s athletic facilities, while main campus hosts most of Oklahoma’s academic buildings.

Students at OU can study from 152 majors divided among 15 different colleges, including the College of Arts & Sciences, which has 35.2 % of OU students enrolled. Other notable schools are the Price College of Business and the College of Engineering. When students aren’t in class, they can choose from over 400 student organizations, ranging from political and social groups, to over 35 different intramural sports. There are also 40 fraternities and sororities that represent a Greek life program that has been at Oklahoma since 1905.

We wouldn’t be talking about Oklahoma right now if they didn’t have an athletic program, and it just so happens that OU’s is pretty darn good. The Sooners compete in the Big 12 Conference in 19 varsity sports. The Sooners have won a total of 26 national championships including eight mens gymnastics and seven wrestling titles. It also has a storied baseball program, winning two national titles and have played in the NCAA Tournament 32 times, making the College World Series 10 times.

The pride of Oklahoma athletics is without a doubt the OU football team. The Sooners are the most successful team in the modern era since 1945, winning 567 games, and have won seven national titles. They also have had great individual success on the gridiron, with 152 All-American players and five Heisman Trophy winners. The Sooners were dominant under coach Barry Switzer, who coached from 1973-1989. Switzer lost only seven games in the 1970s while at Oklahoma, and won back-to-back national titles in 1974 and 1975.

The 1980s were not as dominant for OU, but they were still one of the better programs in the nation until the Switzer era came to an abrupt halt. In 1988, the program was put on probation by the NCAA for violation of several rules, all taking place within a six month period. The incidents included a shooting and a rape in athletic dormitories, the robbery of Switzer’s house by his own athletes, and an athlete trying to sell drugs to an undercover agent. The program saw its scholarships reduced by seven and was slapped with a TV and bowl ban for two years.

The violations hurt the program which struggled in the years following the incidents. When Bob Stoops was hired in 1999, everything turned around for OU. Stoops won the school’s seventh national title in 2000, when the Sooners topped the Florida State Seminoles in the Orange Bowl 13-2. The Sooners also played for the national championship in 2003, led by Heisman-winning quarterback James White, and 2004, but lost both times to LSU and USC respectively. They also played for the title in 2008, but again lost, this time to the Florida Gators.

OU began this season as the No. 1 team in the polls and were early favorites to return to the championship game for the fifth time in Stoops’ career at Oklahoma. The Sooners started out strong, including a victory at then-No. 5 Florida State, but fell out of the national title picture following a stunning home loss to unranked Texas Tech. The Sooners suffered through various injuries throughout the season, finishing with a 9-3 record and a victory over Iowa in the Insight Bowl.

It’s always tough to live up to the standards set by such a high profile football program, but OU basketball has had its fair share of success. The Sooners have reached the NCAA Tournament 27 times, including five Final Fours and two appearances in the title game. The Sooners gained national prominence under coach Billy Tubbs, who coached from 1981-1994. The Tubbs era included stars like Wayman Tisdale and Mookie Blaylock, and enjoyed several deep runs into the tournament. Tubbs resigned in 1994, saying he was tired of playing second fiddle to Oklahoma’s football team, despite averaging 24 wins per season.

Tubbs was replaced by Kelvin Sampson, who continued to have success and reached the Final Four in 2003. Sampson went to the NCAA Tournament in 10 of his 11 years, and left to coach Indiana in 2006. After his departure, however, Sampson was cited with making over 500 illegal calls to recruits from an NCAA investigation, and was banned from recruiting off campus. Jeff Capel became the next coach at OU, and enjoyed his most successful season in 2008 behind sophomore National Player of the Year Blake Griffin. The Sooners went 27-4 and reached the Elite Eight as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament before losing to eventual national champion North Carolina. Capel was unable to continue to have success once Griffin left following his sophomore season, and was fired following the 2010-11 season.

Capel was replaced by Lon Kruger, who has guided the Sooners to a 13-9 record, 3-7 in the Big 12, in his first season in Norman. The Sooners have talent, with three players averaging over 12 points per game, but have failed to turn that individual success into wins. Junior guard Steven Pledger (17.6 PPG, 4.0 RPG) leads the Sooners, and recently dropped 30 on then-No. 24 Kansas State in an upset win in Manhattan. Junior forward Romero Osby (12.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG) is the leading big man for the Sooners, while junior guard Andrew Fitzgerald (13.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG) rounds out the top contributors for OU. The team was also hurt by the transfer of sophomore guard Calvin Newell, who averaged 13 PPG in OU’s first five games before leaving for Central Florida.

In the Big 12 opener on Jan. 3, then-No. 6 Missouri trounced the Sooners 87-49 behind 23 points and nine rebounds from senior forward Kim English (14.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG). The Tigers shot almost 60 percent from the floor in the win, including making 12 three point buckets. They held OU to 33 percent shooting and outrebounded a team that ranked near the top of the Big 12 in rebounding 38-23.

The Tigers should be encouraged by the results of the last time they faced Oklahoma, but can’t be overconfident playing on the road, where it is so tough to win in the Big 12. The last time the Tigers beat a top-10 team this season and went into Oklahoma for their next game, they were stunned by Oklahoma State 79-72. Mizzou cannot afford to let a similar letdown happen again to keep pace with Kansas and Baylor, both 8-2 in the Big 12 and in a three-way tie with Mizzou at the top of the conference standings. Oklahoma is much improved from the teams’ first meeting, and did what the Tigers could not do earlier in the season: beat Kansas State on the road. It’s a short time following such a huge win, so the Tigers will have to come out sharp and bury an upset-minded Sooners team early to avoid falling into a trap game. If they are able to do so, another top 10 matchup in Columbia looms, when the 21-2 Baylor Bears come into town on Saturday. In the mean time, though, they’ll have to get past Oklahoma.