NORMAN — By John Shinn
Transcript Sports Writer
PHILADELPHIA — Some basketball coaches want to destroy everyone they compete against every single day. There are others like Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger and San Diego State coach Steve Fisher who see things differently.
The both admitted Thursday they would profit not be facing one another in the NCAA tournament. It’s games like tonight’s South Region second-round meeting between the 10th-seeded Sooners (20-11) and the seventh-seeded Aztecs (22-10) at Wells Fargo Center that can get in the way of a good friendship.
Kruger and Fisher have one that goes back several decades.
“It started when I was at Illinois and he was at Michigan, a little interaction there, and his wife Angie would hook up whenever we would go to different conferences and Nike trips or whatever,” Kruger said Thursday about Fisher. “Just a good guy. Just a good family. His players always play really hard for him, and they do a great job.”
The two competed against each other twice a year when Kruger was head coach at UNLV from 2004-2011. Some years it went up to three if the Runnin’ Rebels and the Aztecs met in the Moutain West Conference tournament.
They knew how to handle it back then, but the NCAA tournament makes it tougher. Losing means the season is over.
“Any time you play a friend it's always a little bit more difficult because each wants to win but you also know how the other guy feels, too, on the other side line. That's the nature of tournament play, and we'll be happy for sure if we win, and if we don't, then I know he'll have a little bit of a concern for how we're feeling on the other end.”
“I’m happy he's in the tournament. I wish we weren't playing one another in the first round,” Fisher said.
There’s no doubt the winner of tonight’s game will have empathy for the loser. Kruger’s teams have won just six of 20 games against Fisher’s teams through the years. One of Kruger’s wins was at UNLV in 2005. The Runnin’ Rebels rallied from a 10-point deficit with 29 seconds remaining to win, 93-91, in overtime.
“He genuinely felt bad after the game,” Fisher recalled. “Not as bad as I did, but he felt bad.
“So we've had close game, close game, close game, every time we've played, and I would anticipate another close game.”