March 17, 2000

By MIKE FITZPATRICK
Associated Press Writer

TUCSON, Ariz.- The McKale Center floor figures to take quite a beating when Oklahoma's Eduardo Najera and Purdue's Brian Cardinal butt heads Saturday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Najera, the Sooners' All-Big 12 forward, and Cardinal, who leads the Boilermakers in scoring and rebounding, are known for their hustle and competitive fire.

They dive for loose balls, slide on the floor, take charges and throw their bodies around. Both rely on physical play, and it usually isn't pretty.

"Excuse me if they don't win the dunk contest. Excuse me if they don't fit the mold," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said Friday. "They're throwback guys. Those are guys that would look good in tight shorts. But those kids know how to play basketball."

Cardinal knows that his all-out style of play hasn't won him many friends outside his own locker room.

"I'm probably the most hated man in the Big Ten," Cardinal said. "Everywhere we go, it seems like there's a new person that hates me."

Najera and Cardinal will probably guard each other, at least for parts of the game. Cardinal, who had 18 points and eight rebounds in Purdue's first-round victory over Dayton, is a more dangerous outside shooter.

Najera, who averaged 18.8 points and 9.5 rebounds this season, is a more polished inside player. He had just 10 points and five rebounds in Oklahoma's easy win over Winthrop on Thursday, but he did leave his mark.

Early in the second half Najera deflected a pass and dove out of bounds to save the ball, crashing into two Sooners cheerleaders sitting along the baseline. It wound up as one of his three steals.

"They play a lot alike. They don't leave anything out on the floor," Purdue coach Gene Keady said.

Cardinal, who wears knee pads and elbow pads on the court, said he started looking for some protection just a few games into his freshman year.

"My knees would be all bloody and bruised up. So I figured I'd accept the fact that I was going to look goofy."

"That tells me what he has in mind," Sampson said.