STILLWATER-- Oklahoma State's basketball team has received an at-large bid into the 2014 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championships, it was announced Sunday evening. The Cowboys are the No. 9 seed in the West Region and travel to San Diego, Calif., to face eighth-seeded Gonzaga in the second round of the tournament on Friday, March 21.
OSU is making its 26th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, dating back to 1945. It is the Cowboys' second-straight tournament, and the 16th in the past 24 seasons. Oklahoma State is 38-24 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, and has made 14 Sweet 16s, 11 Elite Eights, six Final Fours and has won two national championships. This marks the fourth NCAA Tournament appearance under Travis Ford, who is in his sixth season as head coach of the Cowboys.
Winners of five of their last seven games, the Cowboys enter the Big Dance with a 21-12 overall record that includes a 5-2 mark at neutral sites. OSU beat five teams that are included in this year's NCAA field, highlighted by a 72-65 triumph over Kansas on March 1. Of OSU's 12 losses, 11 came at the hands of teams included in the NCAA Tournament bracket.
Oklahoma State and Gonzaga met most recently on Dec. 31, 2012, when the 10th-ranked Zags defeated No. 22 OSU, 69-68, in Stillwater. Should the Cowboys defeat the Bulldogs Friday, their third-round matchup would be against either top-seeded Arizona or Weber State on Sunday.
Quotes from Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford following the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship bracket announcement: On his initial reaction to being matched up against Gonzaga "Obviously, we have a lot of respect for Gonzaga. Mark Few does a great job. We're a little familiar with them. Both teams are very similar to what they had last year, in regards to personnel. Neither team lost a whole lot, so we're pretty familiar with each other."
On how last year's game affects the players from a motivation standpoint "I don't know. It goes both ways. I don't think our team is getting caught up in that, other than we just know the personnel. We won't put too much stock into that game because we're a different team, and so are they. We won't necessarily get too caught up in how that game was played."
On choosing to not have CBS do a live look-in to OSU's watch party "It was more of a personal time. We had all of our families and people within our basketball family there, together, discussing the game and what will happen from this point forward without all the chaos there. It was just a different approach and I thought it was better for this basketball team."
On the players' reaction to seeing their matchup "They were excited, but they would have been excited no matter what name popped up. They know Gonzaga and have respect for that program. I think having the familiarity with Gonzaga factors in to the excitement a little bit."
On where the team was seeded, and looking at the rest of the West Region "I thought we would be an eight or nine seed. That didn't surprise me. Of course you look at who else is in your bracket, no question. We all know all that matters is the next game, but every coach would tell you they look through their bracket, all the brackets and the stretches within your bracket. However, we have our hands full with our first game. We need to worry about game No. 1 on Friday, and that's it. It's a great challenge. Gonzaga won 28 games, and any time you do that, you've had a great year. They've won a lot of games lately and just beat a great BYU team."
On Gonzaga's personnel "They're big. Two of their top three scorers are at the four and the five (positions). Kevin Pangos is their second-leading scorer, and he can shoot it. Not only that, but he can create his own shot. He is one of the better players in America. Gary Bell had a great game last year, here in Gallagher-Iba (Arena), and David Stockton is a really good point guard. We know their starting five pretty well. We'll watch film and get to know the other guys better, but their starting five all played a significant role in last year's game.
On whether he will break down last year's game as part of his preparation "I'm sure I'll go back and look at it, eventually. It won't be one of the first things I do. We'll look at their most recent games. They played a couple Big 12 teams, so I'll go look at those, even though they were a while back just because I know how Kansas State and West Virginia play. I can get some ideas there. We have a lot of time between now and Friday, so I'll watch every game they have played, as well as last year's game here.
On the team's level of confidence coming off the Big 12 Championship "I think we're playing well. Over the last seven games, I think we have played good basketball. We came up short in two overtime games, but we have some good games lately and played well. There are areas we have to get better in, and do so quickly. We brought the guys in for their first practice since the Kansas game, and it was a good practice. The guys had a lot of spirit. It wasn't a long practice, but the guys were focused."
On playing Friday instead of Thursday "That's good. We have a trip out west, so we have time to adjust, but as I told the team, you can't worry about things you can't control. You can't worry about where you're going, who you're playing, or what time the game is. Let's worry about the things we can control. We play Friday, so we'll head out Wednesday. That will give us plenty of time to get out there, rest up and get ready. We don't know what time the game is, but once we find out, we'll adjust to it. We'll get out there and go through the routine of having our open practices and things like that. At this time last year, we didn't have anyone who had played an NCAA Tournament game, so hopefully with last year's experience, our guys will have a better understanding of what to expect."
Sophomore guard Phil Forte On his excitement level "This time of year, if you're a basketball fan, player or coach, you're really excited. This is a fun time. We're excited. We're just blessed to be in the situation we're in."
On the matchup with Gonzaga "We played them last year and lost a close game here at home. We know that they're well coached. Mark Few is one of the best coaches in the country. Gonzaga is one of the best programs, year-in and year-out. We know that we have our hands full in the first round. They're a very well-coached team with great players. It will be an interesting matchup for sure."
On if the disappointment from last year's tournament loss fuels the team "It (fuels us) a lot. It was a disappointment to be knocked out early in the first round. We didn't play our game and we felt like we didn't go out the way that we wanted to. It left a bitter taste in our mouth and now we're here a year later with a chance to redeem ourselves."
On if there is a sense of urgency "I think so. If you can't get motivated this time of year to play your best basketball, then you don't deserve to be playing. I think that we know how hard it is to win a game in the NCAA Tournament now with that experience we had last year. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we know how important it is for us to bring our A-game."
Sophomore forward Kamari Murphy On the team's initial reaction to being included in the NCAA Tournament "We're excited to go to California again. Another NCAA appearance is wonderful for us, but our mindset is that it's a new season. We get to start over and we want to start strong. Being back in the tournament is amazing."
On the match-up with Gonzaga "We've played them before. They beat us here last year, so it's almost like a rivalry game now. That should be interesting."
On the post players he will face from Gonzaga "Gonzaga usually has good big men. Last year we had to deal with (Kelly) Olynyk. The guys they have now didn't start last year, but played significant minutes. They are workhorses and it will be a challenge for those of us playing down low, but we will play our game — they have to guard us, too. Our quickness and speed are great for us. It will be an interesting match up."
On his individual performance in recent games "The Big 12 Tournament wasn't good for me. I got in foul trouble and stuff like that, but going into the tournament, I was playing good basketball, so the confidence is still there. The guys still believe in me, so like I said, this tournament will be a fresh start."
Sophomore guard Marcus Smart On his initial reaction to seeing Oklahoma State's name pop onto the screen during the selection show "I was excited, because for quite a while we were on the bubble. We were finally able to string together some wins, winning five of our last seven. It felt good to see our name pop up there."
On how this tournament will impact his legacy at Oklahoma State "I'm not really worried about that. I'm just focused on this team right now. I feel like I've made a pretty good mark on Oklahoma State, but that's not my main focus."
On whether he paid attention to post-tournament coverage "I decided to stay away from it. I just wanted to clear my head. We can't lose sight of what we have to do on Friday against Gonzaga, which is a great team with a great coach, Mark Few, who I've been lucky enough to work with in the past on the U.S. team. I know how great of a coach he is. He will have his guys ready, so we need to be ready."
On matching up with Gonzaga's backcourt "They are strong, mentally and physically. I remember that from last year's game. They really controlled the game for their team. We have a big deal on our hands with those guards, because they're nothing to play with. Everyone knows if you have good guard play, you can do damage in the tournament."
Senior guard Markel Brown On Gonzaga "We haven't started (looking at film) just yet. We're going to start in a few minutes. As far as what I saw when I've watched them on TV, they've got some good bigs and they're surrounded by a lot of good guards. I haven't watched too much on them yet, but it looks like they're a really good team."
On this being his final NCAA Tournament "It's exciting because, for the most part, everybody on this team has NCAA experience. We all know what to expect. We all know that it's a win or go home environment, so I think that everyone is embracing it and stepping up to the challenge."
On how the team benefitted from playing in the tournament last season "We're not going to be as surprised as we were last time. We know that it's a business. We know that it's win or go home. Like I said, almost everyone on this team has been there before, so we're just going to go in there with a business-type (attitude) and play to win."
On if this game has a different feel with it being the third time he's played Gonzaga "Yeah, it gives it a different feel. We've had a chance to play against them, as they have had against us. We know what they're going to do and they know what we're going to do. At this time of the year, we just want to extend our season and continue to go out there, play hard and hopefully get a win."