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Sooners face tough week, less pressure following Bedlam win

Feb. 27—After a fast start to the season and a dissapointing stretch from late-January to mid-February, one shot by Javian McCollum has taken a lot of pressure off Oklahoma heading into the final three games of the season.

The Sooners were a No. 8 seed in Joe Lunardi's bracketology prediction last week coming off three losses in their last five games. After appearing to be a lock for an NCAA Tournament bid coming out of non-conference play, the Sooners were just on the outside of the bubble and staring down a closing stretch against a rising Oklahoma State team on the road, another road game against No. 8 Iowa State, a home game against No. 1 Houston, Cincinnati and on the road again to face Texas.

With a loss to the Cowboys, the Sooners' slide would've continued and it only would've stopped if they could pull off an upset against one of two top-10 teams.

In Lunardi's bracketology predictions this week, the Sooners remained a No. 8 seed. They're 4-6 in games against quad 1 opponents, but are a combined 15-2 against quads 2, 3 and 4.

Oklahoma still had a lot to gain if it can pull off an upset or two this week, and it isn't completely safe from bubble watch if it goes winless the rest of the way out.

Beyond that, McCollum's buzzer-beater to win Bedlam could represent a change in trajectory for the team as tournament season approaches. The Sooners are now 6-2 in games decided by single digits and 4-1 in games decided by four points or fewer.

They'll have their hands full this week, though, with back-to-back games against the top two defenses in the conference. Iowa State is second in the conference and eighth nationally in scoring defense and they're fourth nationally and first in the conference in steals per game.

They force the second-most turnovers per game of any team in the country and are also second in turnover margin. Tamin Lipsey leads the Big 12 in steals per game (2.8) and had four the last time he faced the Sooners.

The Sooners have gone 7-6 this season when turning the ball over more than their opponent and 12-2 when recording the same or fewer. They've also gone 16-2 when scoring more than 70 points and the Cyclones have allowed just two of their last six opponents to reach that mark.

Last weekend's Bedlam win wasn't just a big game for McCollum, who closed strong late in the second half and overtime to finish with 14 points. Rivaldo Soares returned from a one-game absence due to injury and scored a team-high 20 points after scoring 17 in his last outing against Baylor.

Otega Oweh has had a quiet last half of the season offensively after being one of the Sooners' top offensive threats early in the year. Against the Cowboys he scored 16 points and only had two misses in 10 attempts.

It was the first time Oweh had scored in double figures in almost a month and his most since scoring 16 against Central Arkansas in December.

The Sooners have missed center John Hugley IV, who hasn't played since the first Oklahoma State game due to a meniscus injury. Still, head coach Porter Moser said the team is hopeful that he'll return this season following a surgery, but it's unclear how soon that could be.

Tarik Masri is the sports editor for The Transcript covering OU athletics and area sports. You can reach him by emailing tarik@normantranscript.com