Jan. 6, 2003
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Ranked 10th in current AP poll and 11th in the ESPN/USA Today version, Oklahoma (8-2) will face No. 5/5 Connecticut (9-0) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. CST inside Lloyd Noble Center in Norman. The game, OU's final regular season non-conference affair of the year, will air live on the Sooner Basketball Radio Network (flagship KOMA 1520 AM in Oklahoma City) with Bob Barry, Sr. (play-by-play) and Mike Houck (analyst) calling the action. The matcup will be televised nationally on ESPN2 with Ron Franklin (play-by-play) and Jon Sundvold (analyst) announcing.
As of Monday morning, a limited number of upper level tickets are still available and can be purchased for $20 apiece from the OU Athletics Ticket Office at (800) 456-4668 or (405) 325-2424. A limited number of restricted admission tickets will go on sale Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Lloyd Noble Center north and east ticket windows. Restricted admission tickets also cost $20 each.
AVERAGES CONNECTICUT PROJECTED STARTERS PPG RPG F 25 Mike Hayes (6-8, 236, Sr.) 3.4 4.9 F 33 Denham Brown (6-5, 205, Fr.) 9.1 3.4 C 50 Emeka Okafor (6-9, 252, So.) 17.1 12.9 G 4 Ben Gordon (6-2, 195, So.) 22.1 3.6 G 12 Taliek Brown (6-1, 200, Jr.) 8.4 3.8
OKLAHOMA PROJECTED STARTERS PPG RPG F 34 Kevin Bookout (6-8, 260, Fr.) 8.7 5.4 C 21 Jabahri Brown (6-10, 210, Jr.) 7.5 5.9 G 2 Ebi Ere (6-5, 215, Sr.) 18.8 5.8 G 4 Quannas White (6-1, 190, Sr.) 6.4 3.2 G 10 Hollis Price (6-1, 170, Sr.) 17.0 2.2
STATISTICAL COMPARISON Category Oklahoma UConn Overall Record 8-2 9-0 Points Per Game 76.1 90.1 Opponent Points Per Game 59.6 68.7 Rebounds Per Game 37.6 45.8 Opponent Rebounds Per Game 30.2 37.1 Field Goal Pct. .461 .490 Opponent Field Goal Pct. .417 .376 3-Point Pct. .355 .410 Opponent 3-Point Pct. .381 .310 Free Throw Pct. .740 .677 Personal Fouls Per Game 17.9 17.0 Assists Per Game 15.5 19.7 Turnovers Per Game 12.3 14.2 Blocked Shots Per Game 3.3 3.3 Steals Per Game 9.8 7.8
The Sooners will put their 29-game homecourt winning streak on the line Tuesday when they take on undefeated Connecticut. Only Brigham Young (42 games) owns a longer such streak. Oklahoma is coming off its first win against a ranked opponent this season, a 60-58 nailbiter over Michigan State on Saturday in Oklahoma City. Ebi Ere was 9-of-17 from the field en route to a game-high 21 points, and had five boards and four steals while Hollis Price added 19 points and four assists. Sooner guards combined for 50 of the team's 60 points on the night. Despite scoring just four points, junior center Jabahri Brown played a key role defensively with seven rebounds, two steals and a career-high five blocked shots. Freshman forward Kevin Bookout, who scored 17 points and pulled down seven boards against UNC Asheville on Dec. 30, had just two points and did not grab a rebound against Michigan State.
Ere has led the team in scoring in seven games (including the season's first five contests) while Price has done it the other three. Ere paces the squad with his 18.8 points per game and averages 5.8 rebounds while Price, the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, is averaging 17.0 points and 3.1 assists per outing. Price has drained a team-high 22 treys and is shooting .909 from the foul line (50-for-55). Senior point guard Quannas White leads the team with 4.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game and sports a superb 3.7 assist-to-turnover ratio to lead the Big 12 (just 1.1 turnovers per game). White is also averaging 6.4 points per game -- 8.4 over the last five outings.
Bookout averages 8.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and ranks among the Big 12 leaders in field goal percentage with a .591 figure. Brown averages 7.5 points and a team-high 5.9 rebounds, and has blocked a team-high 15 shots on the season (13 of those have come over the past four games).
Winners of 21 of their last 22 games dating back to last season (the only loss was to eventual national champ Maryland in the Elite Eight), the Connecticut Huskies come to Norman with a 9-0 mark and an average victory margin of 21.4 points. UConn's closest contest was a 76-70 game at Vanderbilt Dec. 1, and has won its last three games by an average of 31.7 points, including a 50-point win over UNC Asheville Dec. 21. The Huskies are shooting .490 from the field, .410 from three-point land and .677 from the foul line. UConn outrebounds its opponents 45.8 to 37.1 and averages a remarkable 9.1 blocked shots per outing. The Huskies also force 16.9 turnovers per game.
Sophomore guard Ben Gordon leads the Huskies with his 22.1 points per game and has sizzled from beyond the three-point arc, hitting 27-of-53 attempts for a .509 mark. Gordon is also shooting .913 from the free throw line and averages 3.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Emeka Okafor, a sophomore center, contributes 17.1 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.7 blocked shots per contest and is shooting .583 from the field. Senior guard Tony Robertson averages 11.0 points in 20.1 minutes per game off the bench. Junior point guard Taliek Brown scores 8.4 points per game and is averaging a team-high 7.4 assists.
In his 17th season with the Huskies, head coach Jim Calhoun owns a 385-149 (.721) record. The eighth-winningest active Division I coach (633 victories), guided UConn to the 1999 national title. Calhoun also compiled a 248-137 (.644) record in 14 seasons at Northeastern.
UCONN SERIES HISTORY
Tuesday's game will mark just the second meeting between Oklahoma and Connecticut as the Sooners brought home a 69-67 win last year from the Hartford Civic Center. Ebi Ere played one of his best games of the year and finished with a team-high 24 points and nine rebounds. Ere's jumper with 16.4 seconds left broke a 67-67 tie and proved to be the game's final points. The Sooners grabbed an incredible 28 offensive rebounds, the most under head coach Kelvin Sampson, and never trailed in the game. OU led by as many as 12 points and had an answer for every UConn run, including the Huskies' 11-1 outburst that tied the game at 67. After Ere's final bucket, OU's Quannas White made a steal with 3.3 seconds left and Jason Detrick was fouled on the ensuing inbounds play. Detrick missed the front end of a one-and-one before UConn called a timeout with 2.1 seconds to play. The Huskies' Ben Gordon shot a 35-foot game-winning attempt that hit the front of the rim and bounced away. Hollis Price scored 17 points for the Sooners while Detrick added 12 as OU won its 11 straight game. UConn's Caron Butler scored a game-high 25 points while Johnnie Selvie contributed 12 and nine boards. Emeka Okafor rejected eight OU shots while Selvie swatted four more.
MICHIGAN STATE LEFTOVERS
OU's 47 field goal attempts, nine three-point tries, 28 rebounds and eight assists marked season lows, while its seven blocks were a season high. Hollis Price made 10 free throws on 11 attempts. Both figures marked OU season highs. Both Oklahoma and Michigan State were 21-for-47 from the field (.447).
A SHOT IN THE ARM
Oklahoma has shot better than .500 from the field in four of its last nine games. The Sooners failed to reach the .500 mark over the final 21 games of last season and the first game of the current campaign.
PAINTING A PICTURE
Successful shooting does not always translate into victories, but it sure helps. In Oklahoma's eight wins this season, the team is shooting .482 from the field (233-for-483). In its two losses, however, it has shot just .364 (39-for-107).
Kelvin Sampson said prior to this season that OU's schedule would be the most difficult he's ever played. One glance at the Sooners' late December and early January stretch and it's easy to see why. Oklahoma faced No. 8/10 Mississippi State Dec. 28 and played UNC Asheville Dec. 30. OU knocked off No. 14/14 Michigan State on Friday and now faces No. 5/5 Connecticut in Norman on Tuesday. The Sooners have already faced No. 1/3 Alabama, and four future Big 12 opponents are now ranked in the AP top 25.
A TOP-10 HIT
The Sooners are ranked 10th in the current AP top-25 poll, making it 19 consecutive weeks that OU has appeared in the poll's top 10 (dating back to Jan. 5 last year). The Sooners were ranked No. 3 in last season's final edition and debuted in the same spot this year.
Senior guards Ebi Ere (18.8) and Hollis Price (17.0) are averaging a combined 35.8 points per game, a figure that ranks second among Big 12 tandems. Texas Tech's Cory Carr (23.1) and Tony Battie (18.8) averaged 41.9 per game in 1996-97 to set the league standard while OU's Nate Erdmann (20.5) and Corey Brewer (17.5) averaged 38.0 combined points per game the same season to rank fourth on the league's all-time chart.
OU's starting guard trio of Ebi Ere, Hollis Price and Quannas White undoubtedly forms one of the nation's top backcourts. The threesome has accounted for 55 percent of the team's points, 63 percent of its assists and 50 percent of its steals. The three guards have also made 65 percent of OU's free throws on the year and have taken 57 percent of its foul shots.
HEAVY IN THE BACK(COURT)
Sooner backcourt members have scored 519 of the team's 761 points this year. That means 68 percent of OU's scoring has come from its guards. The guards have also registered 128 of the team's 155 assists (83 percent).
In the last six games, Oklahoma has limited Hartford, Coppin State, Georgia State, Mississippi State, UNC Asheville and Michigan State to a collective .374 field goal mark, dropping the team's field goal percentage defense figure from .480 prior to the Hartford game to .417 now. Also, OU averaged just 1.0 blocked shot per game in its first four contests but is averaging 4.8 over its last six games.
OU BOARDING SCHOOL
Since being outrebounded by Alabama (38-32) and UC Irvine (31-29) in their first two games of the year, the Sooners have outboarded their last eight opponents by an average of 10.3 caroms per contest. Against Prairie View A&M, OU posted a 50-25 rebounding advantage (including a 27-1 margin in offensive rebounds). On the season, Oklahoma is outrebounding its opponents by a 7.4 margin per game.
Oklahoma head coach Kelvin Sampson has long stressed protecting the basketball and his OU squads have heeded his words over the years. The Sooners ranked second in the Big 12 last year by averaging just 11.9 turnovers per game. OU led the league in 2000-01 and 1999-00 by averaging just 12.7 and 12.8 miscues per outing, respectively. The Sooners rank first in the Big 12 this season with only 12.3 turnovers per game.
GILBERT BACK IN THE FOLD
Sophomore forward Johnnie Gilbert played in the first two games of the year and then sat out the next three due to injury. The left-hander has averaged 5.2 points and 5.2 rebounds in five games since his return and is 11-for-18 from the field during the span. Gilbert is now averaging 4.7 points and 4.1 rebounds over his seven games.
ERE STELLAR AT START
Guard Ebi Ere has started his senior season with a bang. The 6-5, 215-pounder led the Sooners in scoring in seven of 10 games and ranks third in the Big 12 with his 18.8 points per outing. He also averages 5.8 rebounds to rank second on the team. Last year he shot .427 from the field but so far this year he sports a .504 figure. Ere also averages 2.5 assists and 1.3 steals per outing. Against Princeton in the Sooner Invitational championship game, he registered 27 points (two shy of his then-career high), seven rebounds, a career-high six assists, a blocked shot and two steals. Versus Hartford, he set a career high with 33 points and added eight boards, three assists and a steal in 28 minutes. Ere has scored in double figures in all but the Mississippi State game on Dec. 28 (he had nine points).
One of the best guards to ever wear an Oklahoma uniform, senior Hollis Price is averaging 17.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.7 steals per game this season. He has already passed nine players (Corey Brewer, Bobby Jack, Garfield Heard, David Little, Aaron Curry, Al Beal, Mookie Blaylock, David Johnson and Terry Evans) on the school's all-time scoring chart this season. Price now stands 13th on the career list with 1,379 points and needs 12 points to tie Harvey Grant for 12th. If he duplicates last year's 577-point performance this season, Price will wind up seventh on the career scoring list. The New Orleans native also ranks third in career free throw percentage (.840), fourth in three-point field goal attempts (460), fourth in three-point field goals (169), sixth in steals (187), sixth in minutes played (3,451), eighth in assists (397) and ninth in steals per game (1.7).
Price was named Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year by league coaches and media and is also a candidate for the Wooden and Naismith Awards. Additionally, he picked up preseason All-America honors from Playboy. Price averaged 16.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.7 steals per game last year to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors, as well as third-team All-America recognition from The Sporting News. He concluded the season by earning Big 12 Tournament and NCAA West Regional MVP honors.
Said OU head coach Kelvin Sampson, "To me, he's our heart and soul. Hollis embodies what we want in a Sooner basketball player. The way he practices, the way he carries himself off the court, the way he performs in the classroom, his effort and his pride are impressive. There are very few things in the future that I dread, but I can honestly tell you that I'm really, really dreading senior night. I'm going to really enjoy every minute I'm with Hollis this year because I don't know when I'll get another one like him."
THE FUTURE IS NOW
While preseason publications raved about OU's experienced veterans, fanfare about the team's newcomers paled in comparison. Four freshmen have seen significant minutes in non-conference play. Forward Kevin Bookout has started all 10 games and is averaging 8.7 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting a team-high .591 from the field in 27.6 minutes per contest. He became just the second freshman under ninth-year OU coach Kelvin Sampson to start the first game of a season. Guard De'Angelo Alexander is averaging 6.1 points and 4.0 boards in 18.4 minutes per outing and registered a career-high 14 points Dec. 30 against UNC Asheville. Center Larry Turner is averaging 1.3 points and 1.5 boards in 9.2 minutes per contest. Redshirt freshman forward Matt Gipson is averaging 3.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in 8.3 minutes per outing. Collectively, the quartet has scored 183 points (18.3 per game) and grabbed 119 boards (11.9 per game).
In eight-plus years under Kelvin Sampson, the Sooners sport a 107-10 record (.915) when scoring at least 80 points. OU was 15-0 under the circumstance last year and is 5-0 this season. The Sooners have won 46 of their last 48 games (.958) when scoring 80 or more.
A CHARITY CASE
Oklahoma has traditionally been a sound free throw shooting team under Kelvin Sampson as seven of his previous eight squads have finished first or second in the conference in the category. Last year, the Sooners, who finished seventh nationally in free throw shooting, led the Big 12 with a .767 season mark (they shot an amazing .798 in league games) and broke the school record of .755 set in 1985-86. OU is again off to a great free throw shooting start this season. Through 10 games, the Sooners own a .740 free throw mark.
HOME IS WHERE THE "W" IS
Lloyd Noble Center has always been extremely kind to the Sooners. Oklahoma, which posted a perfect 16-0 mark at home last year and is 7-0 this season, is 348-59 (.855) inside the building since it opened for the 1975-76 campaign. The Sooners are 111-16 (.874) at home under ninth-year head coach Kelvin Sampson and have won 29 straight. The 29-game home winning streak is OU's longest since winning 51 in a row in the late 1980s and early 1990s and is the nation's second longest current streak (BYU has won 42 straight).
SAMPSON SIGNS STELLAR HIGH SCHOOL CLASS
Oklahoma signed four high-schoolers to national letters of intent Nov. 13. The class, which includes point guard Andrew Lavender, swingman Brandon Foust, combo guard Lawrence McKenzie and post Longar Longar, has been rated as one of the nation's 10 best.
Lavender is a 5-7, 155-pounder from Brookhaven (Ohio) High School who averaged 11.0 points and 10.8 assists per game last year in leading his team to a state title. He is generally regarded as one of the country's top two or three point guards and is a top-20 national recruit. Lavender's teammate, Brandon Foust, is a 6-6, 200-pounder who averaged 12.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game as a junior. Foust is considered one of the nation's top 60 players. The duo led Brookhaven to a 27-1 record last year.
McKenzie, 6-1 and 165, has won three state titles at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis, Minn. The former teammate of current Sooner Johnnie Gilbert averaged 15.0 points, 8.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last year. He is regarded as a top-75 national recruit and appears on some analysts' top-50 lists.
Longar, a 6-10, 210-pounder originally from Sudan, averaged 15.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks last year at John Marshall High School in Rochester, Minn. He is considered a top-50 recruit by most analysts.
"I've never been into recruiting rankings," said OU head coach Kelvin Sampson. "I look at how the players a team recruits fill the needs of that team. We will lose three starting guards after this season in Quannas White, Hollis Price and Ebi Ere. Lavender, Foust and McKenzie will not only form a great backcourt, but they're all freshmen. And Longar will be a freshman in the frontcourt. He's an investment who possesses two things you can't teach -- size and athleticism. These kids all come from great high school programs and learn from great coaches."
OU SECURES BEST PRESEASON AP RANKING
OU's No. 3 preseason AP ranking marked its highest ever to start a season. The Sooners' previous best AP ranking heading into a season was No. 5, in both 1984-85 and 1988-89. Oklahoma finished both of those seasons ranked No. 4 in the AP poll under head coach Billy Tubbs.
OU RANKED NO. 1 BY ESPN.COM
ESPN.com ranked the Sooners No. 1 in the nation in its preseason power poll Nov. 13. Oklahoma is in front of No. 2 Arizona, No. 3 Kansas, No. 4 Pittsburgh and No. 5 Florida. Said ESPN.com's Jay Bilas, "The Sooners are the toughest and hardest nosed team in the nation. Kelvin Sampson has a durable and resilient group that is deep and athletic, and has embraced Sampson's style of playing smashmouth basketball on both ends of the floor. Oklahoma sends four athletes to the offensive glass, rebounds the ball with ferocity, gets into your chest and defends with an aggressive and physical demeanor, and has the mental make-up to win the national championship."
OU BOASTS NATION'S SECOND-LONGEST POSTSEASON STREAK
OU has participated in either the NCAA Tournament or National Invitation Tournament in each of the last 21 seasons. During that stretch the Sooners have made the NCAA field 17 times and have played in the NIT on four occasions. The 21-year streak is the second longest in the nation. OU trails only Indiana, which has made 25 straight postseason appearances.
EIGHT STRAIGHT...AND COUNTING
Oklahoma has qualified for the NCAA Tournament in each of Kelvin Sampson's eight years in Norman. Only eight other schools have made the "Big Dance" each of the past eight seasons (Arizona, Cincinnati, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Stanford and UCLA).
MODEL OF CONSISTENCY
Oklahoma has registered a winning record in 25 of its last 26 seasons. No other Big 12 team can boast as many winning campaigns since the 1975-76 season as the Sooners. OU has posted a 588-251 (.701) record over the past 26 years.
THE LAST THREE YEARS
Over the last three seasons, Oklahoma has amassed an 84-19 (.816) record, good for the nation's fourth best winning percentage and fourth most wins during the span:
By Winning Percentage
1. Duke (.880)
2. Cincinnati (.825)
3. Stanford (.821)
4. Oklahoma (.816)
1. Duke (95-13)
2. Cincinnati (85-18)
2. Tulsa (85-23)
4. Oklahoma (84-19)
UNDER KELVIN SAMPSON...