March 11, 2000
By CRAIG HORST
AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A lackluster first half stirred up Eduardo Najera.
Texas and Oklahoma played sluggishly for the first 20 minutes in their Big 12 semifinals. The Longhorns went to the locker room with a 32-30 lead, and the Sooners went to the locker room upset.
"Coaches jumped on us and told us how we had to play in the second half," said Najera, who responded by scoring 21 of his career-high 31 points in the second half as No. 15 Oklahoma beat No. 13 Texas 81-65 to advance to the final Sunday against No. 7 Iowa State.
"This team, if we don't play with a lot of emotion, then we're not very good. I wanted to win this game so badly. This is my last turn around this tournament and I wanted to win bad."
Najera was the driving force in a decisive second-half rally that carried Oklahoma. He fueled an 18-5 run that started midway through the second half to send Oklahoma (26-5) into the final against Iowa State, which beat Oklahoma State 68-64 in the first semifinal.
"It was Eduardo in the second half," Oklahoma guard Nolan Johnson said. "It was with his aggressiveness, attacking them, that made me more aggressive."
Oklahoma beat Iowa State 80-75 in double-overtime during the regular season, giving the Cyclones one of their four losses.
Najera's previous career high was 29 in December against Arkansas State.
"That was an All-American performance," Sooners coach Kelvin Sampson said of Saturday's game.
Najera, who had 28 in a game at Texas on Jan. 15 and has scored 77 points against the Longhorns (23-8) in three games this season, helped send the Longhorns home disappointed again. The Longhorns have been to the Big 12 semifinals three straight years, losing each time. They have not made a tournament final since losing in the Southwest Conference final to Texas Tech in 1996.
Oklahoma and Texas split their two regular-season games, each winning at home.
"I'm disappointed in our mental makeup," Longhorns coach Rick Barnes said. "There was a lot of things I didn't like about this team. I don't know if it's this time of year, but thank goodness the season didn't end today, because we weren't very good."
Nolan Johnson and J.R. Raymond each had 16 points for the Sooners. Chris Mihm had 20 points to lead Texas, and Gabe Muoneke had 15.
"They came out intense," Mihm said. "We were just playing to play. We were lackadaisical. They really got into us."
Oklahoma led 45-40 after a basket by Najera, but the Longhorns closed to 45-44 on a basket by Ivan Wagner and a pair of free throws by Muoneke.
But Victor Avila started the decisive run with a jumper, and Najera banked in a 3-pointer and then scored off a feed from Kelly Newton.
The Sooners led 57-47 with 8:16 to play when Johnson won a fierce scramble for a loose ball and drove for a dunk.
Then Najera, one of the four unanimous choices for the All-Big 12 team, along with Mihm, took control with powerful inside moves. He scored three straight baskets, and Oklahoma led 63-50 with 5:40 to play.
The Sooners led 67-55 with 4:44 to play when Najera scored again.