KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Elijah Harkless was ruled out for the season on Feb. 18 due to an injury. To many, the Oklahoma Sooners were ruled out that day, too.
Harkless averaged 10 points and four rebounds per game. But, in many ways, he was the heartbeat of the Sooners (18-14), who are preparing for Friday’s Big 12 Tournament semifinals.
It was a shock to the system, said Sooners head coach Porter Moser.
“It took us by surprise and we had to regroup,” he said.
It took some time. The day after the Harkless news, the Sooners face Iowa State and fell hard, 75-54. The same thing happened a few days later against Texas Tech — a team the Sooners had beaten a couple of weeks prior. The Red Raiders won, 66-42.
The Sooners were .500 at that point. Then, they clawed out.
“It’s a testament to this group, to how close they’ve become, to block out the noise and just focus on what we need to do in order to win games,” Moser said.
Once they were refocused, the Sooners started winning again. First, Oklahoma avenged its Bedlam loss to Oklahoma State with a 66-62 win. Then, the Sooners beat West Virginia, 72-59, and then concluded the season with a 78-71 win over Kansas State.
Then, the Sooners beat Baylor, a likely No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners did it by cutting down on turnovers in the second half and with balance. Five difference players scored at least 10 points in the game, led by Umoja Gibson.
What Moser wanted after Harkless’ injury was to find more depth. And the Sooners have found it with players like Ethan Chargois and Marvin Johnson. But it’s been percolating all season, driven by a phrase used by one of his mentors, former Utah coach Rick Majerus.
“Starting is for high school,” Moser said. “Get your mind right before your body.”
The point is that you can only start five players and it takes more than five players to win. For the Sooners against Baylor, it took eight players, seven of which played at least 15 minutes.
Only a few weeks ago, the Sooners probably couldn’t have made that happen.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.