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Archive for Monday, March 11, 2002

OU coach hopes Jayhawks, Sooners both make Final Four

March 11, 2002

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— In order for Kansas University and Oklahoma to play a third and decisive game this season, it would have to be for the national championship in Atlanta.

That would be just fine with OU coach Kelvin Sampson.

"I'd really like to see Kansas and Oklahoma in Atlanta," Sampson said. "I'm really pulling for Kansas. We have so much respect for (KU coach) Roy (Williams), their kids and that program. Now it's about pulling for each other. I hope that we get to Atlanta, but I really hope that Kansas gets there, too."

The fourth-ranked Sooners, who were dumped by KU earlier this season in Lawrence, seemed to be headed in the right direction following a convincing 64-55 victory over the No. 1 Jayhawks in the Big 12 championship game Sunday afternoon at Kemper Arena.

"I think we're going into the game and the entire tournament with a lot of confidence," said OU senior Aaron McGhee, who was named to the all-tournament team. "Beating the No. 1 team in the nation, that's a great feat. I don't think we'll take a step back. I think we'll just keep going."

Less than an hour later, though, the Sooners had the rug pulled from under them when they had to settle for a No. 2 seed in the West Region.

"Sometimes you wonder if they (members of the selection committee) are more worried about match-ups than seeding," Sampson said. "I'm not complaining about seeding because you've just got to play your best basketball."

Then again, OU did win the Big 12 tournament by knocking off the top-ranked team in the country.

"I'm not sure it matters in terms of seeding," Sampson lamented. "Let's say we lost to Texas or lost today, are you telling me we're not going to be a No. 2 seed? So winning three games, it gave our kids a lot of memories, but I don't think it mattered one bit in terms of seeding."

Sunday's clash certainly had the feel of an NCAA Tournament game. OU bolted to a 29-17 lead, Kansas fought back to pull within two at 49-47 with 7:03 remaining before the Sooners slammed the door by hitting seven of eight free throws down the stretch.

"You watch TV and you watch all the games, every game is like a (NCAA) tournament game," OU junior Hollis Price said. "Every game is important for every team. Today just showed how good each team's fans are. Our fans  we didn't have as many as Kansas, but the few that we had we appreciate so much."

Those OU fans probably appreciated the Sooners' defense even more.

By the third media timeout with 7:44 remaining in the first half, the Sooners had forced more turnovers (10) than allowed points (seven). Oklahoma also held the top-scoring team in the nation scoreless for 6:01 while building a 16-7 lead.

The Sooners, who led by as many as 12 prior to intermission, held KU to a dismal 23.3-percent shooting (7-of-30), including 2-of-10 from three-point range in claiming a 29-19 halftime advantage.

"I think we learned some things from the first time. We made some adjustments and did a lot of good things," Sampson said of the Sooners' 74-67 loss on Jan. 19 in Allen Fieldhouse. "Defense and rebounding win championships."

Although the Jayhawks and Sooners both had 44 rebounds, OU's seemed to come at more opportune times as Oklahoma outscored Kansas, 18-7, on second-chance points.

After struggling on offense the first two games of the tournament, scoring just 20 points on 6-of-26 shooting, Price responded on Sunday. He scored a game-high 23 points and hit three of the Sooners' four three-pointers en route to being named the tournament's most valuable player.

"Hollis, he's our leader, he's our pulse, he's our heartbeat," Sampson said. "All of our kids have so much respect for him because of the way he practices and prepares every day."

The Sooners will open with Illinois-Chicago in the NCAA Tournament, hitting the floor Friday in Dallas.

"The two best teams played today and the nation saw a great basketball game," Sampson said. "Regardless of who wins, a great team is going to win this thing. Â I'm not going to celebrate at all. We're just going to get ready for the tournament. That's more important to me."

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