March 25, 2003

By OWEN CANFIELD
AP Sports Writer

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - Without a healthy Hollis Price, the Oklahoma Sooners have little chance to make the Final Four.

Just ask coach Kelvin Sampson.

"We have to have Hollis," the coach said Tuesday. "You can't lose a guy like Hollis and expect to be as good, especially when you're playing the teams you are now."

The top player for the top seed in the East Regional has an injured left groin that limited him to 41 minutes in Oklahoma's first two NCAA tournament games.

Price is getting treatment each day, and hopes to be close to full speed for Friday's game against 12th-seeded Butler in Albany, N.Y.

Price, the Big 12 player of the year who averages 18.5 points, was hurt in the closing seconds of the conference tournament title game March 16. He scored in double figures in all but one game before the injury.

But Price took just one shot, a 3-pointer that he made, in 11 minutes against South Carolina State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. He followed that with five points in 30 minutes against California.

Price moved better against California than he had in the first game, but he struggled to move laterally on defense and was used mostly as a decoy on offense.

"That's only going to take you so far," Sampson said.

Price said his injury is getting better every day.

"I don't think I'll be 100 percent, but hopefully I'll be about 95," he said. "I don't think I will be 100 percent until after the season."

Sampson said Price must be able to use his legs effectively to get his shots. A groin injury hampers that.

The best cure is plenty of rest, but Oklahoma doesn't have that luxury. Price hasn't practiced since getting hurt, other than to shoot on his own and do some light running. Sampson said he would like to have Price back on the practice floor Wednesday.

"Butler requires a lot of preparation because of their personnel, so we're hoping we get him to practice Wednesday and Thursday," he said.

The coach said that in addition to preparing for Butler, Price needs the practice time to keep sharp.

"Basketball is a game, if you don't use it, you lose it," he said. "I'm not talking about conditioning, I'm talking about skills."

Point guard Quannas White said the Sooners gained confidence by playing well last weekend with Price limited and forward Kevin Bookout missing most of the first game with strep throat.

He said Price will be important this weekend, even if the team's shooting guard isn't at his best.

"If he's 85 percent, 75 percent, 100 percent, it doesn't matter," White said. "As long as he's on the court it's going to give our team tremendous confidence."