March 18, 2003
GAME: No. 16 South Carolina State (20-10) vs. No. 1 Oklahoma (24-6).
REGIONAL: East, first round.
TIME: Thursday, 3 p.m. EST.
SITE: The Ford Center; Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma looks to begin justifying its No. 1 seeding when it faces 16th-seeded South Carolina State in the opening round of the East Regional.
The Sooners beat out fellow Big 12 member Kansas and Big East tournament champion Pittsburgh for the top seed in the East after winning their third straight Big 12 tournament on Sunday with a 49-47 win over Missouri.
Oklahoma was a No. 2 seed last year when it reached the Final Four, so coach Kelvin Sampson knows that a top seeding does not guarantee his team will win the regional.
"It's strange - last year we thought we might have been the best team in the country going into the NCAA tournament, and we proved it by getting to the Final Four," Sampson said. "This year, I don't think we are good as we were last year, and we got a one seed."
Oklahoma did not look like a No. 1 seed in the second half of the Big 12 title game, when it did not have a field goal over the final 15:05 and nearly squandered a 22-point lead.
"We've got to find a way to knock down our open shots," said Oklahoma's Hollis Price, the tournament MVP. "We've got to be more aggressive down the stretch - way more than we were in the second half."
Price, the Big 12 player of the year, left that game with a groin pull, though he is expected to be fine for Thursday's game.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, should have some momentum heading into the tournament after a dramatic win in the final of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament. South Carolina State overcame a 20-point first-half deficit to notch a 72-67 win over Hampton.
South Carolina State returns to the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years. The Bulldogs are making their fifth trip to the tournament, having lost in the first round in all four of their prior appearances.
The fell 84-65 to top-seeded Stanford in the first round of the 2000 tournament.
The main reason for South Carolina State's success this season has been the play of its frontcourt tandem of Dustin Braddick and Thurman Zimmerman, who were both named to the MEAC All-tournament team. Braddick had 25 points against Hampton in the title game, while Zimmerman added 21 points and eight rebounds.
Zimmerman, a redshirt freshman, was one of the top rookies in the MEAC this season despite being an undersized center and power forward at 6-foot-5. He averaged 16.2 points and 7.7 rebounds.
No top-seeded team has ever lost to a No. 16 seed in NCAA tournament history.
South Carolina State - F Clary Judge, F Braddick, C Zimmerman, G Charles Gilmore, G Moses Malone Jr.
Oklahoma - F Johnnie Gilbert, F Kevin Bookout, G Quannas White, G DeAngelo Alexander, G Price.
South Carolina State - Zimmerman, 16.2 ppg and 7.7 rpg; Dameco Heath, 2.0 apg.
Oklahoma - Price, 19.5 ppg; Bookout, 6.2 rpg; White, 4.1 apg.
HOW THEY GOT HERE:
South Carolina State - Automatic bid, Mid-Eastern Conference tournament champion.
Oklahoma - Automatic bid, Big 12 tournament champion.
ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD:
South Carolina State - 0-4, 4 years.
Oklahoma - 27-21, 21 years.