Lon Kruger returns to K-State on a 3-game winning streak against his alma mater

Oklahoma struggled in its first season under Lon Kruger, finishing with a 15-16 record and only five Big 12 victories.

But that didn’t stop the Sooners from beating Kansas State twice last year. Oklahoma entered both its games against the Wildcats, who were ranked at the time, as underdogs, but came away with a season sweep. Oklahoma led from start to finish in Norman, winning 82-73, and outplayed K-State in Manhattan, winning 63-60.

Kruger put on a coaching clinic in the rematch, which led some to suggest he had Frank Martin’s number. During his time with UNLV and Oklahoma, Kruger went 3-1 against K-State, where he used to play and coach. The only time the Wildcats won, Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente were crazy hot on offense. Overall, Kruger is 4-2 against his former school.

Kruger still has connections at K-State, and donated enough money to the program’s new practice facility that he has a locker named after him inside it. He keeps up with all of the Wildcats’ games and hopes they win when he is not coaching against them. Along with OU assistant Steve Henson, another former K-State player, handling the scout for the game, Oklahoma knows everything there is to know about the Wildcats. That has given the Sooners an edge recently.

But Kruger is 0-1 against Bruce Weber. UNLV and Illinois played each other in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, and the Illini jumped out to a big halftime lead before winning 73-62. So Kruger vs. Weber for the first time at Bramlage Coliseum should be an interesting game.

“Obviously, he pays attention,” Weber said of Kruger. “I have gotten texts and notes from him along the way. He’s just a great person. He is a great representative of our coaching profession. I’ve said this before, I don’t think there is anyone who dislikes him … He does it the right way and everyone appreciates it … He gets fired up (for games against K-State). I’m not sure if it makes a difference for the players. He snuck a couple last year and our guys remember that.”

In a phone interview, Kruger said he is impressed by what Weber has done at K-State. He thinks he is a quality coach, and likes what Rodney McGruder has been able to do within his motion offense.

“He is fantastic,” Kruger said. “He works so hard and is just a tough tough guy to guard. He can make threes and hurt you inside. He has been a terrific player in the Big 12 and now he is nationally, too. He is having a great year.”

When asked if he thought his extensive knowledge of K-State might help Oklahoma continue its winning streak continue against the Wildcats, he chuckled.

“No, not at all,” Kruger said. “Knowing the dorms on campus and restaurants in town don’t help us a bit in the game. We prepare for them by watching video exactly the same as everyone else.”

So if he wasn’t the main reason Oklahoma swept K-State last season, what was? K-State players said their big men created mismatches they weren’t prepared for. Steven Pledger scoring 30 points at Bramlage Coliseum certainly helped. But the Sooners also shot a high percentage in both games.

Oklahoma is a better team this season. It is off to a 12-3 start and won all three of its Big 12 games. The winner of Saturday’s game will stay on top of the conference standings. If the Sooners make shots like they did in both games last year, Kruger likes Oklahoma’s chances.

“We made some shots in those two ballgames, and that is always key,” Kruger said. “My main concern was we just weren’t shooting the ball well early in the season. We have been shooting it better since the holiday break. Hopefully that continues at Kansas State.”