Atlanta At 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, Aaron McGhee looks like a football player.
Fortunately for Oklahoma, the senior forward has evolved into an all-conference basketball player. The two-time transfer's drastic improvement was vital in the Sooners' run to tonight's Final Four semifinal showdown with Indiana. Tipoff is 5:07 p.m.
"You know, he was an offensive guy," OU coach Kelvin Sampson said. "Offensive players tend to be bad defensive players. He treated rebounding and defense as a disease. Aaron would have been a heck of a football player because, you know, you trot him out there on offense. You go on defense, you trot him off. Perfect at that. But in basketball, you don't always have that luxury. But he came a long way.
"Aaron had to change his approach, his attitude. When he started doing that, he got a lot better."
McGhee played sparingly during one year at Cincinnati before transferring to Vincennes (Ind.) where he was named MVP of the NJCAA Tournament in 2000. After an unremarkable junior season with the Sooners, he's putting up MVP-caliber numbers again. He averaged 21.8 points and seven rebounds in OU's first four NCAA Tournament games.
"I think the first year is the most difficult, especially the demands of coach Sampson," said McGhee, who averaged 12.9 points and 4.8 rebounds as a junior. "It's tough your first year, but I think the second year you thrive a lot more because you know what to expect coming into the season."
The all-Big 12 selection averages 15.8 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, and his 13 double-doubles rank second in the league.
"His improvement from last year is probably the best I've been around," OU junior Hollis Price said. "Last year, he really wasn't that good of a rebounder. This year, he worked in the offseason so hard on his body, his footwork, his quickness and everything."
The junior college pipeline has been critical for Sampson. This year's Final Four squad the Sooners' first since 1988 features six juco transfers, including starters McGhee, Ebi Ere and Quannas White. Sophomore starter Jabahri Brown transferred from Florida International.
Many fans and members of the media underestimated the impact of newcomers Eri, White, Brown and Jason Detrick. OU (31-4) finished second in the Big 12 at 13-3 and won the league tournament for the second year in a row.
Sampson hasn't been surprised by what his team accomplished.
"You know, I never thought we were a long way away," he said. "For some programs in the country, getting to the Final Four is just this huge, gigantic leap. For us, it was just a step. You know, maybe not the next step but it was just a big step for us. I thought we were a talented team. I saw where we were picked to finish fourth or fifth in the Big 12. I didn't disagree with that on paper, but I've never been much of a paper guy.
"We're picked different places every year, but that doesn't have anything to do with where you're going to finish."
If Oklahoma wins tonight, the Sooners will finish their season in the national championship game.
Coverdale back: Indiana guard Tom Coverdale, who injured his left ankle in an 81-69 victory over Kent State in the regional championship, is expected to play tonight. The junior not only runs the Hoosier offense, but also often draws the opponents' top-scoring guard.
Coverdale injured the ankle in a first-round victory over Utah, then played hurt against North Carolina-Wilmington and Duke before suffering another injury against Kent State.
"I think he'll definitely play," IU coach Mike Davis said. "How much? It will depend on him. He played in the Wilmington game when he was injured. To keep him out, I think he has to be broken."
By the numbers: Indiana led the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage at 40.4 (252 of 623). Oklahoma led the Big 12 in three-point defense, holding foes to 29.2 percent (162 of 555).
Indiana, though, is coming off a 15-of-19 performance against Kent State. Six different Hoosiers sank treys in that game.
"Some teams don't shoot 15-of-19 from the free-throw line," Price said. "That's amazing to see something like that."
Sampson's dad: Ned Sampson, 72, arrived in Atlanta on Wednesday and is expected to attend tonight's game. Kelvin Sampson's father had surgery last Wednesday on a subdural hematoma, which is blood that collects between the brain and skull.
"If at all possible, he'll be at the game and I hope he will be," OU's coach said.
Homegrown talent: The Hoosier State is a hotbed for hoops. Five of Indiana's 13 players came from in-state high schools. Two of Oklahoma's 13 players were preps in the Sooner State.
This 'n' that: Indiana reserve Jeff Newton has made 16 of 19 field-goal attempts in tournament play. Dane Fife needs one steal to break Steve Alford's Indiana career steals record of 178. IU is 16-1 this season when Jared Jeffries makes at least one three-point shot. OU has won 12 straight games and 16 of 17. Indiana has won six of seven. Indiana owns a 3-1 advantage in the all-time series with OU, including 2-0 in NCAA Tournament play.