Stillwater News Press

Sports

March 17, 2014

Orange Prattle: Cowboys need to continue momentum

STILLWATER, Okla. — As the old adage goes, it's a marathon not a sprint. And while Oklahoma State hit the runner's wall in the middle of the conference season, the Cowboys showed a strong kick late.

After finishing the regular season winning five of six — the lone loss coming in overtime at Iowa State, a three seed in the tournament and the Big 12 tournament champs — OSU pushed Kansas, a two seed in the tournament, in an overtime loss in front of a predominantly Kansas-based crowd at the conference tournament.

The Cowboys will need to carry that momentum into the NCAA tournament if they are going to erase the disappointment of a season in shambles — and potentially save Cowboy coach Travis Ford from the chopping block.

This is the time of year contracts are extended, or coaches are expended.

Travis Ford has a 2-4 postseason record in his six years at OSU — including NCAA and NIT games — with a 1-4 career record in the NCAA tournament.

With what Oklahoma State has gone through this year — from the dismissal of bench player Stevie Clark to the three-game suspension of Marcus Smart, which extended a losing streak to seven games — Ford desperately needs to leave a lasting (positive) impression in this NCAA tournament.

Ford needs to give hope to a fan base that has waffled during his time in Stillwater, and give reason for those paying his lofty contract to keep faith in the direction he has the program headed.

It is set up that if the Cowboys make a run in the NCAA tournament that a lasting impression will be made. It all starts with a game against Gonzaga, a team OSU has never beaten in five games dating back to 2004, in a region the Cowboy program has never picked up a win — sporting an 0-7 postseason record in games played west of Oklahoma City.

But how much is enough with a team that had Final Four aspirations before the season started? Winning one may not be all the work needed.

Upsetting top seed Arizona in the West Region could not only save the season but spring-board this squad into the potential Final Four team expected before the year began. And it's not that far-fetched.

In three of the past four years, an eight/nine seed has pulled a second-round upset of a top seed — with Friday's opponent Gonzaga being the latest victim a year ago with a loss to to a Final Four-qualifying Wichita State team.

While the season has been a marathon, it's time for Oklahoma State to approach this weekend — and potentially the next few — as a sprint to the end. A slow start at this point will prevent OSU from even clearing the starting blocks, and lead to more skeptics of Ford and the Cowboy program.

Jason Elmquist is sports editor of The Stillwater News Press. He can be contacted at jelmquist@stwnewspress.com

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