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February 16, 2013

No. 17-ranked Cowboys host rival Sooners in Bedlam Series

STILLWATER, Okla. — The last time Oklahoma State and rival Oklahoma faced off in the Bedlam Series in Norman, the Cowboys suffered their second of three road losses to open Big 12 Conference play.

That won’t be the same team the Sooners will see Saturday when OSU — which held a “Dedication Week” to refocus on the basics following the Bedlam loss — hosts the series at Gallagher-Iba Arena in front of what should be a rowdy sold-out crowd.

“We’re more disciplined and back on track to where we need to be defensively,” OSU redshirt sophomore forward Michael Cobbins said. “Everybody’s back to the level we know we can play at — just playing Cowboy basketball.”

Since that loss in Norman, in which Oklahoma State was abysmal shooting from the field — including a 0-for-9 performance from 3-point range in the decisive second half — the Cowboys have won seven of their last eight, including six straight. Among the winning streak for OSU has been three road games — as many Big 12 road wins in the past three years combined and the most since the 2008-2009 season — with a marquee upset of then No. 1-ranked Kansas.

“I hope we’ve improved a lot,” OSU coach Travis Ford said. “... We didn’t play well and a lot of that had to do with Oklahoma. But I’m hopeful and think we are a better team, and I think Oklahoma is a better team.”

Cobbins has been one of those players who has been playing more consistently for the Cowboys. They have also been getting some big games from freshman point guard Marcus Smart and junior guard Markel Brown.

But possibly one of the biggest changes for OSU of late has been the return of defensive threat Brian Williams, who wasn’t even expected to play this season after a wrist injury before the season. Williams has played in four games since the OU loss, and while he is averaging just 11 minutes, he is giving Ford another fresh player off the bench — especially on the defensive end.

“Brian clamps down and locks up on defense. He gives us more pressure in practice, which prepares us for the games,” Cobbins said. “When he gets into the game, he brings energy off the bench and just locks people down on defense.”

The sudden surge from Oklahoma State, coupled with struggles by KU following the loss to OSU, has the Pokes sitting atop the Big 12 standings along with Kansas and Kansas State.

Saturday’s game not only has Bedlam bragging rights on the line, but will have huge implications in the conference standings. The Sooners sit one game behind the trio at the top of the standings, and could get a boost in their conference title hopes if they were able to complete the sweep of the Cowboys.

“No matter who is where in the standings, it’s always a tough game when we play OU. When the ball’s tipped in the air, we’ve got to show which team is better,” Brown said.

With so much riding on Saturday’s Bedlam game — quite possibly the biggest Bedlam battle since 2005, when both teams were in the hunt for a conference crown — it’s no surprise the game has been announced as a sellout.

“It’s a big game for this university, it’s a big game for this team to stay at the top of the standings and it’s a big game for the fans,” Brown said. “We know how much the fans love it, and we love it also. ... A packed house would be wonderful. We haven’t had one in (a while) and to pack it for Bedlam with a six-game winning streak, it’ll be good to see everybody come out to support us.”

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