You probably forgot about it.
The most "important" game the '04 Final Four Cowboys played was NOT St. Joseph's. It wasn't the grindfest against Pitt. It wasn't one of the three times we beat Texas that year.
It wasn't the bedlam sweep or the victory over Kansas. It wasn't even a win. The most important game of that season, the game that made all the following victories possible, was an ugly, ugly loss on the road, only five games in to the young season.
BYU 76, OSU 71.
Rafeal Araujo lit the Cowboy defense up for 32 points. In a game that remained close for its entire duration, the then ranked #25 Cowboys let the Brazilian center hit six free throws in the final minute of the game. He grabbed 17 boards...17 glass-dominating boards, as the Cougars racked up a 44-18 rebounding advantage.
No one could guard the big man down low. The Cowboy offense couldn't stay consistent either: although they shot 52% for the night, they brought down only one offensive board, and went almost four minutes without scoring toward the end of the game. The Cowboys were embarrassed, plain and simple.
The Eddie scowl probably showed up on the Richter scale, he was so profoundly disappointed. They would soon be knocked out of the top 25, and Cowboy fans would remain puzzled as to what could be expected of this team of mostly new faces. As the players later reported, the trip back home was no fun.
We all know what happened after that. Practice in football pads that the national media just loved to show. A run through the Big 12 like we had never seen before. A team that became the epitome of toughness, both on defense and on the glass, despite Ivan McFarland being their tallest starter.
We were more physical than Texas, we were grittier than Pitt, and were so clutch to the point that John Lucas III had no problem icing the game against St. Joseph’s with a three-pointer we will all remember. But it all started with the loss to BYU, and the motivation it planted deep in the heart of the '04 Cowboy team.
Flash forward to the current season. Through six games, a Cowboy team with quite a few new faces is rolling along quite well, winning all their games by double digits. Coach Travis Ford warns everyone that his young team is not quite ready to be minted as a contender, that they have a ways to go. Prophetically, he steps up these comments before the Tulsa game.
Tulsa 86, OSU 65.
The game was terrible. Outrebounded 39 to 22, the Cowboys let another big man, Jerome Jordan, block six of their shots, grab nine boards and 11 points. Granted, this was not quite the Brazilian nightmare of the BYU game, but in every category where you could be physical and tough, the Cowboys failed in a drastic manner.
Afterward, the players expressed their embarrassment. Coach Ford publicly expressed in interviews his disappointment in the upper classmen, especially in non-basketball manners such as attending class. The collective face of Cowboy Basketball was dour.
My thought is that we shouldn’t worry. In fact, I think we can be cautiously optimistic about the results of the butt-kicking by Tulsa. The team obviously has talent. It even has similarities to the '04 Final Four team beyond the BYU-Tulsa comparison: James Anderson reminds one of Tony Allen (although not as good a defender, but he sure can get to the basket like Tony).
Marshall Moses reminds one of another tough guy, plays-bigger-than-my-height Ivan McFarland (although he may be even shorter than Ivan). Even Ray Penn reminds me somewhat of a John Lucas III.
Granted, all of the '04 guys were older and had more time under their belts. Additionally, we play an entirely different style of ball. Please do not hear me saying I expect a Final Four out of these guys! However, we didn't expect one out of the '04 guys either.
Can Coach Ford use Tulsa the same way Coach Sutton used BYU? Will the players use it for motivation the same way? Sometimes it better to lose early. Sometimes, its even better when you get your butts handed to you early, especially when you are young. Let's just hope the drive back from Tulsa was long enough to get under this young team's skin the same way the trip home from Utah did with the '04 Cowboys.