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Archive for Wednesday, March 27, 2002

s teams in Final Four in same year

March 27, 2002

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— Oklahoma prides itself on football. Just as that team starts spring practice, though, the school's basketball players are getting all the attention.

A sea of red Sooners hats and Final Four T-shirts bobbed across campus Tuesday in celebration of a rare double: Oklahoma's men's and women's teams are headed to the Final Four.

It's just the third time that a school has sent teams to both college basketball national semifinals in the same season. Duke did it two years ago, and Georgia did in 1983.

"We're not a basketball school," zoology major Ryan Willes said while watching game highlights on a TV in the OU student union, "but we've got a chance to show our dominance."

Oklahoma's women beat Colorado, 94-60, Monday to win the West Regional and will play Duke in San Antonio on Friday for a berth in the national title game. It's the first Final Fourth berth for any women's team from the Big 12 Conference.

Oklahoma's men defeated Missouri, 81-75, Saturday to win the West Regional and will face Indiana on Saturday in Atlanta. The Sooners hadn't been to the Final Four since 1988, when they lost to Kansas in the championship game.

How muted is Oklahoma's basketball tradition? Sooners guard Hollis Price, who's averaging 18.2 points in the men's NCAAs, said he "didn't even know we played for a national title against Kansas until I got here."

Still, men's coach Kelvin Sampson said his team has carved itself a niche at the school, which won its seventh AP college football national title in the 2000 season.

"I think we've got our own great basketball tradition here," Sampson said. "We don't have the seven championships, but we've worked hard to create an identity for ourselves here."

That identity was in evidence at Frank Mize's tiny barber shop across from campus on Tuesday, the first day of football spring practice. The talk in the shop usually veers toward quarterbacks and offensive sets.

Now they're talking about rebounding and shooting.

"Since the tournament began, that's all I've heard," Mize said.

Local businesses post signs of support in windows and fly the school's crimson and cream colors outside storefronts. Along some streets, OU flags outnumber U.S. flags.

"There's an electricity in the air and you can feel it," said Luke Canon, co-owner of Suzy's Creations, an embroidery and screenprinting shop. "It's almost as good as football electricity."

Canon and his wife, Suzy, said that since the tournament started, they've noticed that customers are buying more OU merchandise at the shop.

"It's like being at the Ringling Brothers Circus for the first time," Canon said.

The memorabilia machine has kicked into full gear.

Items commemorating the teams' Final Four berths are hot, including autographed basketballs, jerseys, hats, T-shirts, mugs and stickers.

"I had a little girl come in the store the other day and she told me she wanted to look just like Stacey Dales," store owner Helen Porkka said, referring to the Sooners' All-American guard.

Porkka said she's sold about 1,000 Final Four shirts since Sunday afternoon, when she had to reopen the store to accommodate a line of people.

The Sooners are hoping for better luck than the other schools that did double duty at the Final Four. In 1983, both of Georgia's teams lost in the semifinals. In 1999, both of Duke's teams lost in the championship game.

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