PITTSBURGH — As soon as Oklahoma found out it had made the NCAA tournament, the message became clear: This is a new season.
The Sooners lost eight of their final 10 games entering their first round game against Rhode Island on Thursday, but Trae Young said there is no need to focus on any of that.
“I count the regular season as last season,” Young said during the Sooners’ press conference Wednesday. “We’re not worried about it. Everybody is 0-0 now. Everybody in this field is capable of winning games. So, we have got to come in with the mindset of we’re going to compete hard on both ends for 40 minutes, and hopefully get back to the way we were to start the season, and if we do that, we’ll be OK.”
Oklahoma started the season 12-1, scoring virtually at will, with at least 90 points in 10 of those games. Young, meanwhile, emerged as a rising star and player of the year candidate with his electrifying plays. But over the last month, Oklahoma has been a streaky shooting team and Young has struggled, too. In its last 10 games, Oklahoma has failed to reach 90 points. Young failed to reach 20 points in five of those.
Going into selection Sunday, Oklahoma was one of the most intriguing teams on the bubble. But the selection committee decided to go with the Sooners despite the rough finish to the season. That drew raised eyebrows from some across the nation, believing the Sooners were unfairly rewarded. Players admitted they heard that criticism.
“We see everything,” Young said. “We’re good at blocking things out. We’ve been good this week on just focusing on Rhode Island. … But, I mean, we do play with a chip on our shoulder, especially as of late, we haven’t been playing very good.
“But like I said, we all sat down, we made sure and let everybody know this is a new season, and it’s a new breath of fresh air. We got to come out and play and be ready.”
Young said the team sat down collectively during a meeting after the selection was announced to make that message clear. But it wasn’t just the coaches delivering the message. Players also made sure to emphasize it during their group texts as well.
“We talk in our group messages about being focused and ready for a good Rhode Island team,” Young said.