March 14, 2003

 

By STEPHEN HAWKINS
AP Sports Writer

DALLAS - Oklahoma never had to worry about Colorado pulling off another miraculous ending.

The sixth-ranked Sooners led throughout after Colorado scored the opening basket and responded with a game-clinching run when things got close, beating the Buffaloes 74-59 in a Big 12 tournament quarterfinal game Friday night.

"Bottom line, we just played a much better team," Colorado coach Ricardo Patton said. "They have the look of a team that has been to the Final Four."

Even with center Jabahri Brown fouling out with 10:33 left and second-leading scorer Ebi Ere limited because of a bandage around his left hand, the Sooners (22-6) were too much for NCAA hopeful Colorado.

Quannas White and Hollis Price both scored 19 points for the Sooners, who are seeking their third straight Big 12 tournament title and a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

"We're not worried about a No. 1 seed right now," Price said. "We're just trying to get through the Big 12 and get another championship."

The Sooners play Texas Tech (17-11) in the second semifinal game Saturday. No. 4 Kansas (25-6) plays Missouri (20-9) in the first game.

Ere, who injured his wrist in practice Tuesday, made his only field goal when he sank an awkward-looking 3-pointer with 13:30 left to push the Sooners ahead 50-36.

"There was no doubt he was going to play. When his bucket went in, I think the whole team was real excited," Price said. "A guy goes down and comes back and makes a big play for you, you get emotional - that's what a team does."

When the Buffaloes (20-11) managed to cut the gap to 56-51, Oklahoma responded with a decisive 9-0 run started by Johnnie Gilbert's alert play.

The shot clock was about to run out when Gilbert drove into traffic, made the basket and was fouled as the buzzer sounded. He missed the free throw, but that didn't matter.

"That was a backbreaker. If we stopped them, we have to chance to cut it to three and get some momentum going," Colorado forward Stephane Pelle said. "We knew we had to play a perfect game, and we didn't."

After De'Angelo Alexander made two free throws, Kevin Bookout made a layup and White made a 3-pointer to make it 65-51 with 5:34 left.

Colorado had won four straight games, but that streak ended with its 15th loss in 16 games against Oklahoma.

Patton is confident his team has done enough to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1997, when he took over as head coach midway through the season. The Buffs will have to wait until Sunday to find out for sure.

"It's been one heck of a ride so far, we've still got some basketball left," Patton said.

The Buffaloes advanced to the quarterfinals after James Wright banked a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Kansas State 77-76 Thursday. The Wildcats seemed to have that game won when Pervis Pasco intercepted an inbound pass with 3 seconds left, but he got called for traveling when he walked off of the court in celebration - giving Colorado another chance.

Oklahoma beat the Red Raiders twice this season, including a controversial 69-64 overtime win in Norman. The Big 12 determined there were two timing errors in the final seven seconds of regulation, when Price drove the length of the court for a tying shot to force overtime.

Pelle drove for the opening basket of Friday's game for Colorado's only lead.

Oklahoma eventually built its lead to 28-16 on a 3-pointer by Price, the third straight for the Sooners.

Alexander started the long-range streak when he banked a 3-pointer, holding his hands out as he walked away as if he meant to do it that way. On the next possession, he made a 3-pointer from the right corner - hitting nothing but net.

Bookout had 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting before becoming the second Sooner to foul out with 3:10 left.

David Harrison was the only Colorado player in double figures with 12 points.