Those closest to Bob Stoops share their keen insight

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    June 12, 2017

    Five days have passed since Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops announced his sudden retirement at age 56. Even those closest to him were stunned when Stoops shared the news last Wednesday.

    Sooners associate head coach/defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is 15 months younger than his older brother. They grew up in a close-knit family in Youngstown, Ohio, were teammates throughout their playing days in school, coached alongside each other as assistants at Kansas State and Mike spent 10 seasons at OU as an assistant under big brother.

    A bit of shock lingers even for Mike.

    "It still feels a little strange, but it's all good and time for a new beginning," Mike said Sunday evening. "When you really think about it, why not (retire)? Bob's not about money. He's not about records or anything like that. He's just about doing his job and being happy."

    The day after his announcement, Bob Stoops and longtime friend Matt McMillen headed to a Florida beach. McMillen is OU's assistant athletics director for football operations and arrived alongside Stoops in 1999. They've been friends since 1989 working at K-State. McMillen was having dinner at Stoops' home last Tuesday night when he got blindsided.

    "We were outside and Bob says, 'Matty, I'm not going to coach anymore,'" McMillen explained. "I don't think I said a word for 20-25 minutes. He started laughing at me. It was like somebody hit me on the head with a sledgehammer, or an anvil fell on my head, or something. I didn't know what to say. It was crazy."

    Early in the morning on the day of the announcement, Stoops called assistant head coach Cale Gundy into his office. Gundy, who serves as director of recruiting and coaches inside receivers, has been with the OU football program for 23-plus seasons. He played quarterback for the Sooners (1990-93), served one year as a student assistant and returned to OU when Stoops became head coach 18 years ago.

    "Bob told me what was going on," Gundy said. "It was kind of tough for him to tell me and it was tough for me to hear it. We have been around each other for so long and it's something I'll remember forever."

    A mid-afternoon meeting was scheduled last Wednesday to inform OU players of Stoops' retirement. When word leaked, the meeting was bumped up to early afternoon. Before meeting alongside his teammates, however, senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Baker Mayfield was summoned into a meeting with Stoops and new head coach Lincoln Riley.

    “By then, everybody kind of knew what was happening,” Mayfield said. “I was shocked at first, just hearing it come out of Coach Stoops' mouth. I also was taken aback that he respected me enough to call me in there and tell me in person before meeting with the team.”

    Former Sooners coach Barry Switzer said Stoops gave him a tour of the new facilities three days before the announcement and Stoops never hinted of his pending retirement. The day after the announcement, Stoops telephoned Switzer.

    "Bob said, 'The timing was right,'" Switzer said. "And I said, 'Well, you're the only one who keeps that watch. No one else keeps that watch except you. It's your clock and you set the time. I'm all for it. I can understand.'"

    Defensive tackle Tommie Harris was a two-time, first-team All-American with the Sooners in 2002-03, won the 2003 Vince Lombardi Award, declared for the 2004 NFL Draft after his junior season and was selected 14th overall in the first round by the Chicago Bears.

    "I was shocked," Harris said of Stoops retiring, "but then at the same time, I was more excited for him. It showed his courage to leave at the top of your game. He can do whatever he wants with his time now."

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    OU's deep pitching staff clinches another NCAA crown

    Junior lefthander Paige Lowary (14) helped give Patty Gasso her deepest pitching staff in 23 seasons as OU's softball coach.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    June 7, 2017

    Before her team began its quest to defend its 2016 NCAA crown, Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso knew she potentially had the deepest pitching staff in her 23 seasons at OU.

    Final proof came Tuesday night when the Sooners edged Florida, 5-4, to sweep the best-of-three Championship Series at the Women's College World Series, capturing their second straight national title and their third crown in the last five seasons.

    OU's Hall of Fame coach began smiling last summer when left-handed flame-thrower Paige Lowary decided to transfer from Missouri and would have two years of eligibility with the powerhouse Sooners.

    Also arriving at OU for the 2017 season were freshmen pitchers Mariah Lopez, Nicole Mendes and Melanie Olmos. With the arrival of this foursome, Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Paige Parker, who worked 59.0 percent (252.1) of her team's total innings in 2016, instantaneously had some teammates to lean on, which explains why her workload this season dipped to 43.6 percent (210.1 of 482.2 total innings).

    How apropos the Sooners claimed their fourth NCAA title under Gasso by outdueling a Gators pitching staff that led the nation with a miniscule team ERA of 0.74 this season and featured the national player of the year in Kelly Barnhill.

    Both pitching staffs were thinned out considerably the previous night in Game One, a 7-5 Sooners victory that required 17 innings, five hours and 28 minutes and 495 total pitches.

    Under these trying circumstances, Gasso knew there was a good chance her team might be able to clinch the title pitching by committee, and that's precisely what happened.

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    Sooners turn the Paige (twice) in epic WCWS Game 1

    OU pitcher Paige Lowary (middle) celebrates her team's 7-5 victory in 17 innings over Florida in Game 1 of the WCWS.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    June 5, 2017

    In an effort to win the longest Women's College World Series game in history, Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso chose to turn the Paige not once, but twice.

    After five hours, 28 minutes, 495 pitches (333 strikes), 122 at-bats, 40 strikeouts, 31 players and 17 innings, the Sooners managed to outlast Florida with a 7-5 victory in Game One on Monday night before an appreciative crowd of 8,337 at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium.

    Gasso threw a curve before the first pitch was even thrown by opting to start Paige Lowary rather than two-time Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Paige Parker. Lowary pitched the first five innings before being relieved by Parker. Fellow left-handed junior, Parker went 6.2 innings before being relieved by a re-entering Lowary, who wound up getting the victory after throwing 10.1 total innings.

    "Epic, epic battle," Gasso said at the outset of her team's midnight postgame interview session. "It was like two heavyweight fighters throwing punch after punch. I will never forget the pitching duo here (Lowary and Parker) and how they tag-teamed. It was an emotional, emotional rollercoaster of a game and one that I will never, ever, ever, ever forget."

    Though the contest was nearly the equivalent of 2½ seven-inning games, the Sooners only lead the best-of-three championship series 1-0 heading into Game Two on Tuesday night at 7.

    With one more victory, OU Athletics will claim its fourth national title in the last eight weeks, joining the school's NCAA championship teams in women's gymnastics, men's gymnastics and men's golf. Oklahoma has never won four national crowns in the same semester.

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    Oklahoma softball maintains its championship mindset

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    June 1, 2017

    Featuring a roster with eight freshmen and four sophomores, the 2016 Oklahoma softball team won the NCAA championship much earlier than anticipated. With an apparent dynasty looming, the 2017 Sooners became just the fourth team in the 23-year history of the NFCA poll to ever be selected as a unanimous preseason No. 1.

    Oddly enough, this year's OU team is even younger overall than last year's champs. The 2016 Sooners had five seniors, but this year's squad has only one in utility fielder Macey Hatfield, who is joined by six juniors, six sophomores and five freshmen.

    With softball being among the most superstitious of all sports, team members understandably hoped to re-trace their steps to a second straight national championship.

    En route to winning last year's title, the Sooners wore crimson-colored rubber bracelets emblazoned with capital white letters “CHAMPIONSHIP MINDSET.” This year's players looked forward to wearing that same lucky charm while defending the crown.

    OU Hall of Fame coach Patty Gasso initially banned the bracelet, however. The woman respectfully dubbed “Three Natty Patty” for her three national crowns (2000, 2013, 2016) also took away another cherished piece of equipment when she didn't permit her players to wear their white cleats.

    In Gasso's eyes, her team didn't deserve such comforts because of their early season struggles.

    “I said, ‘We're going to keep working until we figure this out,' ” Gasso explained. “And they wanted those bracelets desperately, so it kind of forced them to let go of some of the stuff they were hanging onto. The whole ‘defend the title' thing kind of got in the way a little bit.”

    As is her way, Gasso once again had lined up a formidable early schedule. Even though five of OU's nine losses this season have come against teams in this week's Women's College World Series (Washington and Baylor) and last weekend's Super Regionals (Arizona, Tennessee and Auburn), Gasso didn't like what she was seeing from her potential powerhouse.

    “Honestly, it did surprise me some,” Gasso said of the slow start, “but then I started to see what our returners were trying to do. They were trying to match their numbers from the year before, do those kind of things, and that doesn't work.”

    Last year's championship run is eerily similar to what has transpired so far this season.

    The 2016 Sooners began with a 2-2 record through four games and were 9-4 through 13 games. Those are the exact same marks as this year's team.

    The 2016 Sooners started out 25-7 and fell to No. 14 after losing at home to Kansas in what would be their lone loss in a 17-1 Big 12 season. The 2017 Sooners started out 23-7, slipped to No. 13 in the polls also finished with a 17-1 conference mark.

    And, just like last season, OU finished with a flourish to qualify for its sixth WCWS appearance in the last seven years and its 11th trip overall.

    The 2016 Sooners entered the World Series riding a 27-game winning streak and had won 34 of their last 35. The 2017 Sooners enter this week's WCWS having won 33 of their last 35.

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    Three state schools advance to NCAA baseball tournament

    NCAA.com

    May 30, 2017

    INDIANAPOLIS – Three schools from the state of Oklahoma -- Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Oral Roberts -- are among those who will compete in the 64-team field for the 2017 NCAA Division I baseball championship.

    No. 2-seeded Oklahoma (34-22) will compete in the Louisville (Ky.) Regional while No. 3-seeded Oklahoma State (30-25) and No. 4-seeded Oral Roberts (42-14) are in the Fayetteville (Ark.) Regional.

    The national top eight seeds are Oregon State (49-4), North Carolina (47-12), Florida (42-16), LSU (43-17), Texas Tech (43-15), TCU (42-16), Louisville (47-10) and Stanford (40-14).

    TOURNAMENT BRACKET

    The Southeastern Conference (SEC) leads the way with eight teams selected. Both the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and Big 12 Conference have seven participants in the field. The Big Ten Conference ties a conference record with five, while the Pac-12 Conference has four in the field. The American Athletic Conference (AAC) has three and the Big East Conference, Big West Conference, Conference USA, Missouri Valley Conference and Southland Conference all have two teams each.

    Florida Gulf Coast and Davidson are each making their first appearances in the championship in 2017.  Holy Cross is in the tournament for the first time since 1978, while Yale earns its first bid since 1993 and West Virginia is in for the first time since 1996.

    Florida State now has the longest consecutive streak with its 40th straight appearance, with the Miami (Florida) streak of appearances ending at 44.  Other long consecutive streaks: Cal State Fullerton (26) and Rice (23).

    While 15 of the regional sites are scheduled to be played Friday through Monday, June 2-5, competition at the Stanford Regional will begin Thursday, June 1 and will conclude either Sunday or Monday, June 4 or 5. BYU, which won the automatic qualifier by capturing the West Coast Conference tournament championship, does not participate in any athletics competition on Sundays. Therefore, if the Cougars advance to the regional final, that game will take place June 5; otherwise that regional championship game is scheduled for Sunday, June 4.

    Selection of the eight super regional hosts will be announced on www.NCAA.com/cws, Tuesday, June 6 at approximately 8 a.m. (ET). The 71st Men’s College World Series begins play Saturday, June 17, at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska.

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    OU advances to NCAA men's golf championship final

    OU Athletics Communications

    May 30, 2017

    SUGAR GROVE, Ill. -- The Oklahoma men's golf team will face defending champion Oregon on Wednesday afternoon in the NCAA men's golf championship match at Rich Harvest Farms Final.

    OU advanced by winning two matches on Tuesday, rolling past host Illinois 3-1-1 in the semifinal match after posting a 3-2 comeback victory over Baylor in the morning quarterfinals.

    The final matches will begin at 2:10 p.m. CT. The Golf Channel will televise the NCAA championship match live from 3-7 p.m. CT and live scoring also will be available on GolfStat.com.

    NCAA FINAL MATCH PAIRINGS

    1. Blaine Hale (OU) vs. Norman Xiong (ORE) - 2:10 p.m. CT
    2. Max McGreevy (OU) vs. Edwin Yi (ORE) - 2:20 p.m. CT
    3. Rylee Reinertson (OU) vs. Wyndham Clark (ORE) - 2:30 p.m. CT
    4. Grant Hirschman (OU) vs. Ryan Gronlund (ORE) - 2:40 p.m. CT
    5. Brad Dalke (OU) vs. Sulman Raza (ORE) - 2:50 p.m. CT

    This marks the first time in school history the Sooners will play for the national title in the match-play format, which made its debut in 2009. OU is looking to win its second NCAA title in program history, having previously won the 1989 championship at Oak Tree Country Club under the stroke-play format.

    "What a great day for Oklahoma golf," eighth-year head coach Ryan Hybl said after Tuesday's sweep. "I can't put into words what this opportunity means for us, and our guys have earned it all this week. We have one more to knock down tomorrow, and our guys will be ready."

    The Sooners qualified as the No. 2 seed overall for match play after placing second in the 72-hole stroke-play qualifier. Oregon is the No. 5 seed and advanced to the championship match with a 3-2 semifinal victory over No. 1-seeded Vanderbilt, which won the stroke-play qualifier by 12 shots. Oregon began match play by beating No. 4-seeded Oklahoma State 3-2 in the quarterfinals.

    Sophomore Blaine Hale got OU on the board first in the semifinal with a 4 and 3 win over Illinois' Edoardo Lipparelli. Hale struck early with a win on hole No. 1, and although the golfers went back and forth on the front nine, Hale never trailed in the match. Wins on hole Nos. 10 and No. 14 put Hale 4-up and he halved the 15th hole to claim the victory.

    Senior Max McGreevy posted the Sooners' next win, defeating Giovanni Tadiott 2 and 1. McGreevy also won the first hole and maintained the lead over Tadiotto throughout the round. The senior clinched a win on the challenging 17th hole.

    Junior Rylee Reinertson's 3 and 1 victory over Michael Feagles clinched the OU win over the Fighting Illini.

    Junior Grant Hirschman halved his match with Illinois' Nick Hardy. The duo was all-square when the match was suspended after Reinertson's win. Sophomore Brad Dalke was 1-down to Dylan Meyer.

    In the quarterfinal match, OU rallied on the back nine to defeat Baylor.

    Down 2-0 with three matches left on the course, Reinertson and Hirschman came through with a pair of 1-up victories to tie the match. Dalke sealed the comeback win by defeating Baylor's Matthew Perrine 1-up in 19 holes.

    At the one point during the quarterfinals, OU trailed in all five matches. Reinertson worked his way back from 3-down through eight holes; Reinertson grabbed the lead with a birdie on No. 17; Hirschman, who was 3-down at the turn, sunk an eagle putt on No. 18 to win 1-up and tie the team match at 2.

    Dalke battled back and forth with Perrine, who forced a playoff after chipping in from the fringe on No. 18. Dalke won the first playoff hole by burying a 6-foot putt.

     

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    Never too late: Quentin Griffin finishes his quest for a diploma

    Former running back Quentin Griffin stands alongside OU athletic director Joe Castiglione at the student-athlete graduation banquet.

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    May 16, 2017

    When diminutive Oklahoma running back Quentin Griffin was selected in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft, he left as the school's fourth-leading rusher with 3,938 career yards. Griffin only trailed two Heisman Trophy winners in Billy Sims (4,118) at No. 1 and Steve Owens (4,041) at No. 3, plus silver-shoed great Joe Washington (4,071) at No. 2.

    A chance to play in the NFL put Griffin's academic progress on hold. In his second season with the Denver Broncos, the 5-foot-7, 190-pound Griffin set a franchise record for most rushing yards in a season opener with a career-high 156 on 23 carries against the Kansas City Chiefs. A budding NFL career abruptly was cut short when Griffin tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee in Week 7. He would never play another regular-season game again for the Broncos.

    In 2005, Griffin had dropped to No. 4 on Denver's depth chart and was released. He was brought back a few weeks later, then released again. In 2006, Griffin was signed by the Chiefs and later cut. In 2007, the Hamburg Sea Devils made Griffin the second overall pick in the NFL Europa Free Agent Draft. In 2008, he signed the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL and was cut after the team's final preseason game. In July 2013, Griffin signed with the Kiel Baltic Hurricanes in Germany (GFL1).

    When Griffin's football odyssey finally came to an end, a daunting task awaited if he was going to finish what he started academically at OU.

    When he left the Sooners, Griffin was 33 credit hours short of earning his undergraduate degree. "My mother, she planted the seed (to graduate) and kept watering it," Griffin said with a smile. "It was in the back of my mind, but once I got it to the front of my mind, that's the push I needed."

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    College football's early signing period set for December

     

    BY CHRIS HUMMER

    247Sports

    May 9, 2017

    College football's early signing period, which was officially approved Monday, is expected to occur on the third Wednesday of each December to align with the mid-year junior college transfer window, according to Susan Peal, Director of Governance for the National Letter of Intent program.

    "It is anticipated that the football early signing period will align with the football mid-year (junior college) transfer signing period each year," Peal wrote 247Sports in an email. "So that would start the third Wednesday of December."

    The 72-hour early signing period for high school seniors will start Dec. 20, 2017.

    This early signing period is in addition to college football's standard National Signing Day, which occurs the first Wednesday of February each year. In essence, college football now has two National Signing Days with recruits having the option to sign in December or February.

    The early signing period is one of a number of prominent pieces of legislation the Division I Council approved earlier this year. Others included a 10th full-time assistant, a change in the official visit schedule with an additional window from April to June, which goes into effect April 1, 2018, and changes to the way off-season recruiting-related camps are conducted.

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    Renae Martinez takes road less traveled to find OU

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    May 10, 2017

    In 2014, Renae Martinez was a redshirt freshman catcher for UC Irvine, which ended its season playing at the College World Series in Omaha.

    Three months later, Martinez had relocated to the not-so-friendly confines of El Camino College just west of Compton, Calif.

    Could there possibly be a more precipitous drop in collegiate baseball status than going from TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha to Warriors Field at a community college located on Crenshaw Boulevard?

    Choosing to make the 35-mile transfer from UC Irvine to El Camino was anything but easy. “It was a tough decision to make,” Martinez explained. “I loved Irvine, but I lacked opportunity.”

    Martinez could have remained with the Anteaters, who stunned top-seeded Oregon State to advance from the NCAA Corvallis Regional, then swept No. 4-seeded Oklahoma State in the Stillwater Super Regional to advance to the 2014 CWS, where they defeated No. 6-seeded Texas in the first round before getting eliminated after falling to No. 5-seeded Vanderbilt and in a rematch against Texas.

    At UC Irvine, Martinez was a backup to redshirt junior catcher Jerry McClanahan, a second-team All-Big West Conference selection who hit .304 in 65 games. McClanahan was expected to leave college after getting selected in the 2014 amateur baseball draft, but instead he returned for his senior season and was drafted in the 19th round by the Baltimore Orioles in 2015.

    Martinez played in just 23 games (five starts), had 33 at-bats and hit .152 in 2014. When it became known McClanahan would return for his senior season, Martinez approached his UC Irvine coaches, who informed him the 2015 season would pretty much play out in the same manner with limited playing time as a backup.

    Martinez chose El Camino because it was close to his hometown of San Pedro, where he was named the Marine League's Most Outstanding Player and also earned First Team All-CIF and all-city honors in high school.

    Though he knew nothing of El Camino College itself, Martinez was no stranger to the area. He grew up playing baseball at the Urban Youth Academy in neighboring Compton and knew several coaches there. “They've always given me a place to play,” Martinez said of the academy. “They're really special people who go out of their way to help kids get to the next level.”

    Martinez indeed returned to the next level after one season at El Camino and transferred to Oklahoma in hopes of someday reaching the sport's pinnacle again.

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    OU women's gymnastics seeks third title in four years

    The Oklahoma women's gymnastics team tied for the 2014 NCAA crown with Florida and won the national title outright last season.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 13, 2017

    Oklahoma women’s gymnastics coach K.J. Kindler said she could feel the crowd pulling for her team to win at the 2014 NCAA Championships in Birmingham, Ala.

    At that time, only five schools had won national titles since the NCAA first sanctioned the sport in 1982 – Georgia (10), Utah (9), Alabama (6), UCLA (6) and defending champion Florida (1). The up-and-coming Sooners were the team of the moment.

    For the first and only time in NCAA women’s gymnastics, there wound up being national co-champions as OU and Florida finished with identical scores of 198.175 three years ago. The Sooners happily embraced their role as co-champions after the Gators had edged OU for the 2013 NCAA crown by a margin of 0.200 (197.575-197.375).

    Well, times have changed.

    The Sooners were the 2016 national champs all by themselves and will seek back-to-back crowns when the NCAA Championships are held Friday and Saturday at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis. OU will compete in Semifinal I at noon Friday against No. 4 Utah, No. 5 UCLA, No. 8 Oregon State, No. 9 Denver and No. 13 Washington. The top three finishers from Semifinal I and Semifinal II advance to the NCAA “Super Six” on Saturday night to compete for the national title.

    Fresh off their fifth undefeated regular season under Kindler, the defending champs are this weekend’s No. 1 seed for a multitude of reasons, the most recent of which came April 1 at the NCAA Seattle Regional, where the Sooners posted a nation-high 198.075 in regional competition. OU entered the meet with a program record with a regional qualifying score (RQS) of 198.010.

    OU’s overall excellence this season frequently has been perfection with four gymnasts combining for nine perfect 10.0s. Though only a freshman, Maggie Nichols already owns the school career record with six and scored at least one 10.0 in every event, becoming just the ninth collegiate gymnast to ever do so. Senior McKenzie Wofford and sophomore Nicole Lehrmann each earned a 10.0 on the uneven bars and senior Chayse Capps scored a 10.0 on the balance beam. Six OU gymnasts earned a nation-best 14 regular-season All-America honors this season, with junior AJ Jackson and sophomore Brenna Dowell joining the aforementioned perfectionists. (Dowell scored a 10.0 in 2015 on uneven bars.)

    Seventeen of OU’s scores this season rank in the top 10 in program history.

    Suffice to say, the Sooners no longer are up-and-coming. They have reached the summit and have no intention of descending anytime soon.

    “They have a target on their back,” Kindler said of her team. “People are gunning for them. Everyone roots for the underdog, and that’s not us. Now there’s that expectation and pressure knowing people are gunning for you. We just need to focus on ourselves and not on that.”

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    After dismal season, Kruger hopes youth will soon be served

    A slew of young returnees who keep improving, plus a superb recruiting class, give the Sooners hope for the future.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 12, 2017

    In his 31 seasons as a collegiate men’s basketball coach, Lon Kruger never has had one season be so contrary to the next.

    His 2015-16 Oklahoma team went 29-8 overall, advanced to the Final Four in Houston and completed its season April 2 – just two days shy of the latest date possible.

    His 2016-17 Sooners went 11-20 overall, were eliminated in the opening round of the Big 12 Conference tournament and completed their season March 8 – the earliest date possible.

    The 18-win, 25-day discrepancy is by far the most significant one-year differential in Kruger’s career – good or bad.

    “Sure, there were disappointing results,” Kruger said. “It was difficult from the standpoint of not getting results, for sure. And yet the challenge with this group was to keep their enthusiasm level up. When you’re not winning games, you still have a different type challenge, you still have objectives. You can go on, keep getting better individually and play better as a group. The good feeling, even though we didn’t get the results we wanted, is I thought they were playing their best basketball in the last three weeks. Individually, several were playing better and with more confidence.”

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    OU Spring Game: 80 degrees and clear (of injuries)

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 8, 2017

    NORMAN — Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops said he was "really pleased" with the overall play during Saturday's annual Spring Game, but what pleased him most was his team's overall health.

    "Nobody's seriously hurt whatsoever," Stoops said afterward. "I thought there was good execution and we met all assignments. Guys played hard, played well. I'm just really pleased. We got (in) right what we'd hoped for ... right around 90 (plays) pretty close, and that's what we were shooting for."

    The White team edged the Red team 14-13 on an 80-degree afternoon before an announced crowd of 43,723 at Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

    Starting quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Baker Mayfield completed 11-of-20 passes for 99 yards, while redshirt sophomore Kyler Murray completed 9-of-13 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown — a 70-yard connection with senior wide receiver Jeffery Mead in the second quarter — and had another potential touchdown pass was dropped.

    Freshman quarterback Chris Robison completed 3-of-5 passes for 49 yards while sophomore Austin Kendall completed 2-of-4 passes for 47 yards. Running back Abdul Adams had the catch of the day with a 34-yard reception.

    Passing was hampered by steady gusts of 20 mile-per-hour winds throughout the game.

    "By position, I liked what the quarterbacks did, overall," Stoops said. "(They) had smart play, took care of the ball, good throws. It was a windy day. It's tough to get the receivers a little bit of a break because the ball's getting blown all over on a few occasions."

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    For OU men's gymnastics, there is power in numbers

    The top-ranked Oklahoma men's gymnastics team is going for its third straight NCAA title and 11th overall.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 7, 2017

    You would think a men's gymnastics program would be satisfied having already won 10 NCAA championships. Not so with Oklahoma.

    Seven of those national crowns have come under the guidance of coach Mark Williams, but in his constant quest for more championships, Williams wanted more depth and more opportunities for more gymnasts. As a result, this would bring more titles.

    Williams got his wish.

    Since Williams arrived in 2000, the OU men have never placed lower than fourth at the NCAA Championships and claimed national titles in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2015 and 2016. In that six-year gap between championships (2009-14), Williams had to settle for two third-place finishes, followed by four straight runner-up finishes. Even though the NCAA increased the number of participating athletes per team from 12 to 15, Williams was seeking an even bigger talent pool.

    Williams approached Athletics Director Joe Castiglione and was granted permission to add a club team, where walk-ons could hone their skills to perhaps someday be good enough to join the school’s NCAA squad. “I had to tell him we were getting beat by sheer numbers,” Williams recalled of his meeting with Castiglione. “My 14 guys couldn’t hold up to other team’s 22 guys."

    Since Williams was granted a feeder program, the Sooners have continued to feast on collecting crowns.

    Not only will OU seek its third straight NCAA championship later this month, the school’s club team is seeking a three-peat at this week’s National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs (NAIGC) championship, which is being held Thursday through Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.

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    The many magical moments for 'Coach Merv'

    Merv Johnson served as Notre Dame's offensive coordinator when Joe Montana was quarterback.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com

    April 6, 2017

    Merv Johnson's 60 years in college football included some of the sport's most significant moments:

    • Born in King City, Mo., Johnson was recruited by and played for one of the sport's greatest innovators in Missouri coach Don Faurot, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame who is credited for inventing the Split-T formation in 1941. "That was pretty special," Johnson said of being recruited by the legendary Faurot.

    •  As a Missouri senior in 1957, Johnson was selected as an All-Big Seven Conference offensive tackle for the Tigers under first-year coach Frank Broyles, who had replaced Faurot.

    •  On Nov. 9, 1957, OU beat Missouri 39-14 in Columbia. The following week, the Sooners' streak of 47 straight victories came to an end with a 7-0 loss at home to unranked Notre Dame. Yup, Johnson played for the last team OU defeated in its record-setting run.

    •  Johnson followed Broyles to Arkansas in 1958 and was an assistant there for two seasons before returning to his alma mater as an assistant under coach Dan Devine, who had replaced Broyles at Missouri. While with the Razorbacks, Johnson served as a "dorm coach" and had to keep an eye on a player named Barry Switzer, who served as team captain his senior year in 1959. Broyles convinced Switzer to put his plans to attend law school on hold and instead go into coaching. After Johnson returned to Missouri, Switzer replaced him as dorm coach.

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    Merv Johnson: The 'Aristotle' of OU football

    Merv Johnson, who joined the Oklahoma football program in 1979, has formally retired as a staff member.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 5, 2017

    Bennie, Bud, Barry and Bob all made their indelible mark as Oklahoma football head coaches, but historic contributions also have come from a man endearingly referred to as "Coach Merv."

    Mervin Lewis Johnson spent more years inside the Sooners' football program than Bennie Owen, Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer or Bob Stoops.

    After 38 years as an assistant coach (1979-97) and director of football operations (1998-2017), Johnson formally has retired from the university. "At 80 years old, I figured it'd probably be a good time to do that," Johnson said of retirement.

    Johnson will continue his role as the team's radio analyst during games, however. "I said, 'Merv, you may be retiring in employment terms, but we're not going to let you get away that easily. We still want you and need you around here,'" OU Athletics Director Joe Castiglione said of Johnson, who will turn 81 on May 16.

    From 1958-2016, Johnson was a football staff member for 59 consecutive college seasons and 703 total games. He served under seven head coaches and those teams combined for an all-time record of 516-175-12 (.743).

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    Joe Castiglione Jr.: Living up to his name

    Joe Castiglione Jr. on the sidelines with coach Bob Stoops in 2015.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    March 30, 2017

    Joe Castiglione Jr. was 2 years old when his father selected Bob Stoops to become Oklahoma's new football coach on Dec. 1, 1998. Now Stoops has agreed to allow that same kid to join the Sooners as a walk-on player.

    The son of OU Athletics Director Joe Castiglione spent the previous two seasons as a student manager with the Sooners. Joe Jr. would hold up huge flashcards on the sideline during games. At practice, he assisted linebackers coach Tim Kish and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Joe Jr. would attend meetings involving coaching activities and analyze film, and would chart opponent tendencies and what plays they would run according to down and distance and field position. He would also perform traditional managerial duties, and also served as a gofer for coaches and players.

    Joe Jr. would perform these duties in addition to being a full-time student, and he still managed to carry a 3.5 grade point average. Each August, he logged an estimated 70-plus hours per week with school and football. During the season, that number would dip to 50-55 hours.

    No stranger to long hours and hard work, Joe Jr. will now get to spend some time on the field. How much time? Probably not much, if any. But that's not the point here.

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    Kansas and Self advance to another regional final

    Kansas coach Bill Self after Thursday's 98-66 romp over Purdue.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 23, 2017

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas coach Bill Self is one of this year's 14 finalists for induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

    Voters don’t tend to nominate or induct coaches who can’t coach. Yet seemingly every March, Self suffers the slings and arrows of sarcastic soothsayers.

    “Don’t pick Kansas in your bracket,” sayeth the naysayers. “KU won’t make it past the first weekend. No one chokes in March quite like Kansas.”

    With Thursday night’s 98-66 dismantling of No. 4-seeded Purdue at the Sprint Center, the Jayhawks will face Oregon in the Midwest Regional Final at 7:49 p.m. on Saturday to advance to the Final Four next weekend in Glendale, Ariz.

    This will be Self’s ninth regional final of the millennium.

    He coached mid-major Tulsa to the 2000 South Regional final.

    He coached Illinois to the 2001 Midwest Regional final during his first season with the Fighting Illini.

    Come Saturday, Self will coach his seventh regional final with Kansas.

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    NBA scouts keeping a close eye on Sweet 16 field

    Purdue sophomore PF/C Caleb Swanigan (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    BY JONATHAN WASSERMAN

    NBA lead writer

    Bleacher Report

    March 21, 2017

    NBA scouts have plenty of reasons to continue watching the final 16 teams in the NCAA tournament.

    Seven prospects left in the field could potentially land in this year's lottery, including two players who'll be competing for No. 1 overall consideration.

    But every year, March Madness also brings out talent that's gone overlooked during the course of the regular season. Through the first weekend, we've already seen several under-the-radar prospects break through into the 2017 draft discussion for the first time all year.

    We ranked the top names still playing based on long-term NBA potential—not their current college impact.


    Is this the NCAA basketball tournament or gymnastics?

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 18, 2017

    Perhaps we all should have used chalk while filling out this year’s NCAA basketball tournament bracket.

    There’s so much chalk flying around right now, you’d think we were actually watching the NCAA gymnastics championships – which would be great news for the perpetually top-ranked Oklahoma men’s and women’s teams.

    Chalk picks are boring. No upsets. Nothing but favorites across the board.

    According to Kevin Kaduk of The Dagger, an unfathomable 36 entries in Yahoo's NCAA basketball tournament bracket went a perfect 32-for-32 in the opening round. One other entry also went 32-for-32, but inexplicably picked only three Final Four teams and failed to pick a winner in the national championship game, taking his classroom grade from an A-plus to an Incomplete.

    If these perfect pickers were Berkshire Hathaway employees for billionaire Warren Buffet, each would have received $1 million for their spotless brackets after one round. (One Buffet employee went 31 for 32 and pocketed a $100,000 top prize.)

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    Humdrum second-round games could lead to a "Sweet" 16

    Defending champ and No. 1 seed Villanova faces No. 8 seed Wisconsin today.
    BY JEFF EISENBERG

    The Dagger

    March 18, 2017

    What’s the only upside to a humdrum, uneventful first round of the NCAA tournament in which teams seeded No. 4 or better went 16-0?

    It should give way to a second round loaded with quality matchups.

    Saturday’s second-round slate is headlined by a pair of tests for No. 1 seeds and two intriguing clashes of style between No. 4 and 5 seeds. Here’s a look at Saturday’s eight games ranked from most to least compelling:

    1. 1-Villanova vs. 8-Wisconsin (1:45 p.m. CST, CBS): The reigning national champs will get a huge opening-weekend test from a Wisconsin team gunning for its fourth straight Sweet 16 appearance. The Badgers lost five of six late in the regular season to fall out of Big Ten title contention, but they’ve righted themselves in the postseason. Bronson Koenig sank eight threes two nights ago, Nigel Hayes is averaging 16 points in his last three games and Ethan Happ could be a difficult matchup for an undersized Villanova team lacking a true center. Guard play will be an advantage for Villanova, but the Wildcats really need title game hero Kris Jenkins to rediscover his shooting stroke.

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    Is Friday the day a No. 16 seed finally slays a No. 1?

    UC Davis coach Jim Les (photo by Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 16, 2017

    TULSA -- In the last 11 seasons, Kansas has been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament seven times, which is more than any other program and that same span.

    The Jayhawks’ impressive run of top seeds began in 2007 and they faced the winner of a play-in game between Niagara and Florida A&M. Niagara won to advance into the 64-team bracket, and three days later summarily got thrashed 107-67 by KU.

    In those days, there was only one play-in game with the last two No. 16 seeds battling to become a sacrificial lamb as the No. 64 seed in the bracket.

    In these days, there are four “First Four” play-in games in Dayton, Ohio. The last four No. 16 seeds battle for two spots, as do the last four at-large berths.

    When the “First Four” made its debut in 2011, No. 11-seeded play-in winner VCU went 5-0 rather than the normally required 4-0 to advance to the Final Four, where it lost to Butler in a national semifinal at Houston.

    In 2012, South Florida won its play-in game as a No. 12 seed, then posted an opening-round upset over No. 5-seeded Temple.

    In 2013, La Salle won a play-in game as a No. 13 seed and upset No. 4-seeded Kansas State in the opening round, then got to the Sweet 16 with a victory over Mississippi.

    In 2014, No. 11 play-in winner Tennessee destroyed No. 6 UMass 86-67, while fellow No. 11 play-in winner North Carolina State nearly won, losing to No. 6 Saint Louis in overtime.

    In 2015, No. 11 Dayton survived a play-in game on its home court against Boise State 56-55 and then eliminated No. 6 Providence in the opening round before losing to Oklahoma.

    In 2016, No. 11 seed Wichita State won its play-in game and promptly eliminated No. 6 Arizona.

    A team that gets to face a play-in winner initially was portrayed as a huge break for whoever awaited the victor, but VCU obliterated that theory the first time the “First Four” was ever staged. Since then, a No. 4, No. 5 or No. 6 seed has been victimized every year.

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    NCAA Tournament to begin with No. 12 vs. No. 5 upset

    John Rohde's NCAA Tournament bracket
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 15, 2017

    From the jump, the 2017 NCAA Tournament will begin with an upset.

    The No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup has become the tournament's most magnetic opening-round game, and we won't have to wait long for an upset.

    The first two games in this year's tournament are No. 5 vs. No. 12 showdowns Thursday with No. 5 Notre Dame facing No. 12 Princeton at 11:15 a.m. CT and No. 5 Virginia against No. 12 UNC-Wilmington at 11:40.

    Here are the all-time records since the tournament's 16-seed format began in 1985:

    History shows No. 5 vs. 12 has the exact same overall record as No. 6 vs. No. 11 (8246), which mathematically defies the odds.

    It's also worth noting that No. 8 vs. No. 9, viewed as the opening round coin-toss game, is dead-even at 64-64, so I suppose the selection committees deserve a pat on the back for that.

    The No. 12 seed posted its first upset the same year the seed made its tournament debut when Penn defeated No. 5-seeded Washington State 62-55 in 1980. (Officially, the NCAA defines a tournament upset as "when the winner of the game was seeded five or more places lower than the team it defeated.")

    As captivating as the 5-12 matchup has been, however, no No. 12 seed has ever advanced to the Final Four. Missouri came the closest, losing to No. 2-seeded Oklahoma 81-75 in the 2002 West Regional final at San Jose, Calif.

    This year could bring the tournament's first opening-round sweep for No. 12 seeds. The No. 12s previously won three of four against the No. 5s in 2002, 2009, 2013 and 2014.

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    Best NCAA Tournament information is found here

     

     

    So many websites. So many games. So many decisions to make while filling out your NCAA Tournament bracket.

    Feeling a little water-logged from hours of swimming on the web since this year's 68-team field was announced Sunday?

    Looking for a site with all the NCAA Tournament information you need? The absolute necessities and the simple basics -- a printable bracket with the sites, dates, starting times, TV networks, plus quality insight on every opening-round game?

    Tired of being lured in to all those "click bait" sites that require hitting "NEXT" page after page after page, which definitely is no fun when 68 teams are involved?

    CBS Sports, USA Today, Yahoo! and ESPN are all terrific sites for the tournament. But when it comes to March Madness, I've found it best to go directly to the source.

    That source is the NCAA.

    So, look no further. The best website for NCAA Tournament nuts and bolts is ...

     

     

    Click Here

     

     

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    Top 10 mistakes made by the NCAA Tournament committee

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 12, 2017

    As a point of reference, here is the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s official seeding list No. 1 through No. 68 for this year's field:

     

     

    Top 10 mistakes made by this year's tournament selection committee:

    10. Syracuse deserved a bid … Nah, just kidding. The top team to not get an at-large bid was Illinois State (27-6), which was No. 69 in the committee’s overall seeding for the 68-team tournament. However, the Redbirds’ RPI ranking of No. 33 was higher than 15 teams that received at-large bids.

    9. Vanderbilt became the first team ever with 15 losses to get an at-large bid. Not only that, the Commodores are a No. 9 seed and face No. 8 seed Northwestern, which is making its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchups are supposed to be intriguing. Maybe this one should be decided by SAT scores.

    8. Michigan State had 14 losses, was seeded No. 40 overall, which equates to the final No. 10 seed, yet the Spartans somehow were given a No. 9 seed in the Midwest Regional. Not good news for No. 1-seeded Kansas.

    7. Middle Tennessee State, where former Oklahoma State guard and Oklahoma City University coach Win Case serves as an assistant to head coach Kermit Davis, deserved an at-large bid rather than an automatic berth at No. 12. No harm done, however. At least we now know which team to pick in the obligatory No. 5 vs. No. 12 upset special when the Blue Raiders face Minnesota in the South Regional. In fact, every 5 vs. 12 matchup potentially could be upsetting. Ranking the other three in terms of likelihood: UNC-Wilmington over Virginia in the East; Princeton over Notre Dame in the West; Nevada over Iowa State in the Midwest.

    6. Speaking of OSU, the Cowboys deserved better than a No. 10 seed. Yes, they’ve lost three straight, but they were against Iowa State (twice) and Kansas. OSU was ranked No. 35 overall by the committee, which equates to the third No. 9 seed. So what happened?

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    Alex Brown: 30 years of athletic care for the Sooners

    OU athletic trainer Alex Brown has been to three Final Fours with the Sooners.
    BY JOHN ROHDE
    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Alex Brown is in his 30th year as an athletic trainer at Oklahoma, and don’t dare ask him to rank his most memorable moments with the men’s basketball program. Such determinations are difficult when you have worked with three Final Four teams, three national players of the year, eight All-Americans and advanced to 21 NCAA Tournaments.

    “All my favorite moments usually are road wins, but NCAA Tournament wins are always special,” Brown admitted. “Just going to the NCAA Tournament is special. My favorite day of the year is Selection Sunday.”

    Brown also doesn’t share locker room banter, which falls under privileged information. “Hey, I can’t tell everything,” Brown said with a laugh before adding, “You’ll have to wait for my book.”

    Nor should you ask Brown to reveal his most challenging moments as an athletic trainer. “There’s too many to mention,” Brown said.

    The HIPAA Privacy Rule protects an individual’s health records and information, but many medical moments happen in plain sight and the Sooners have endured some doozies:

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    All-Big 12 selections -- let's see how well the coaches did

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 5, 2017

    This season’s All-Big 12 men’s basketball awards will be revealed today, starting at noon. Voting was done by conference coaches, who were not allowed to vote for their own players.

    Listed below are the correct answers. Let’s see how close the coaches are to getting it right.

    You will notice a whole lot of Kansas listed here, but such things tend to happen when you’re ranked No. 1 nationally, own a 28-3 overall record, finish 16-2 in league play and win your 13th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title by four games in what the Sagarin Ratings calculate to be the nation’s top-ranked conference.

    FIRST TEAM

    G – Frank Mason III (Kansas)

    G – Monte Morris (Iowa State)

    G – Jawun Evans (Oklahoma State)

    F – Josh Jackson (Kansas)

    F – Johnathan Motley (Baylor)

    SECOND TEAM

    G – Jevon Carter (West Virginia)

    G – Naz Mitrou-Long (Iowa State)

    G – Devonte' Graham (Kansas)

    F – Jeffrey Carroll (Oklahoma State)

    F – Jarrett Allen (Texas)

    Player of the Year: Frank Mason III (Kansas)

    Newcomer of the Year: Manu Lecomte (Baylor)

    Freshman of the Year: Josh Jackson (Kansas)

    Coach of the Year: Bill Self (Kansas)

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    With Big 12 seeds set, why does OSU-KU game even matter?

    OSU first-year coach Brad Underwood
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 3, 2017

    Kansas and Oklahoma State are the only two teams to already have clinched their seeds for the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament next week at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

    It just so happens these same two teams close out the regular season by meeting at 5 p.m. on Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

    KU coach Bill Self

    By virtue of winning their 13th straight Big 12 regular-season crown, the No. 1-ranked Jayhawks (27-3 overall; 15-2 in Big 12) have locked the No. 1 conference tournament seed while the surging Cowboys (20-10; 9-8) have secured the No. 5 seed. Heading into Friday night's Iowa State at West Virginia game, no other Big 12 seeds had been determined.

    OSU will play the No. 4 seed at 11:30 a.m. next Thursday. KU will follow that contest by facing the No. 8 vs. No. 9 first-round winner around 2 p.m. If the Cowboys and Jayhawks both win, they’ll meet in a tournament semifinal at 6 p.m. Friday.

    So, with next week’s schedule already locked in place for the Cowboys and Jayhawks, why does Saturday’s game in Stillwater even matter? Plenty of reasons:

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