Men's Basketball Faces No. 16 Mississippi State In Sugar Bowl Classic

Athletics Communications
By Athletics Communications
University of Oklahoma
DECEMBER 26, 2002

Dec. 26, 2002

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Ranked fifth in this week's AP and ESPN/USA Today polls, Oklahoma (6-1) will face No. 16/17 Mississippi State (7-1) on Saturday at noon CST inside the New Orleans Arena as part of the Nokia Sugar Bowl Basketball Classic. The contest will be followed by LSU versus Tulane. The OU-MSU game 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 game will also be televised nationally by Fox Sports Net (Cox Cable 37 in OKC). Paul Kennedy (play-by-play) and Dan Bonner (analyst) will announce.

F 31 Ontario Harper (6-5, 210, So.)    8.6  7.8
F 44 Michal Ignerski (6-10, 225, Sr.) 10.8  6.3
C 33 Mario Austin (6-9, 260, Jr.)     26.0  9.5
G 15 Timmy Bowers (6-2, 180, Jr.)     17.3  4.0
G 22 Derrick Zimmerman (6-3, 195, Sr.) 9.0  4.0

OKLAHOMA PROJECTED STARTERS PPG RPG F 34 Kevin Bookout (6-8, 260, Fr.) 9.4 5.9 C 21 Jabahri Brown (6-10, 210, Jr.) 8.3 5.9 G 2 Ebi Ere (6-5, 215, Sr.) 19.9 6.0 G 4 Quannas White (6-1, 190, Sr.) 6.1 3.4 G 10 Hollis Price (6-1, 170, Sr.) 17.4 2.3

Category                    Oklahoma   Miss. St.
Overall Record                 6-1        7-1
Points Per Game               79.4       81.9
Opponent Points Per Game      60.0       59.5
Rebounds Per Game             38.9       44.8
Opponent Rebounds Per Game    28.6       30.4
Field Goal Pct.               .466       .489
Opponent Field Goal Pct.      .427       .364
3-Point Pct.                  .347       .324
Opponent 3-Point Pct.         .402       .339
Free Throw Pct.               .766       .655
Personal Fouls Per Game       17.4       15.6
Assists Per Game              16.0       16.8
Turnovers Per Game            11.9       15.6
Blocked Shots Per Game         2.3        3.9
Steals Per Game                9.7       11.1

Oklahoma will wrap up a six-game stretch in which it plays on Saturdays only when it takes on Mississippi State. The Bulldogs will mark the second SEC opponent and second ranked foe for the Sooners this year (OU lost to now-No. 1 Alabama by a 68-62 score in the season opener). OU has won its six games by an average of 23.7 points and has held its last three opponents to a combined .355 field goal shooting mark. Kelvin Sampson's Sooners are coming off an 89-62 win over Georgia State in which they shot a season-high .554 from the field. It was Oklahoma's 28th straight home victory. Senior Hollis Price scored a game-high 22 points for the second straight contest and added a season-high seven assists while fellow senior Ebi Ere contributed 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Freshman Kevin Bookout was 5-for-6 from the field and scored 10 points.

After Ere led the Sooners in scoring each of the first five games this year, Price, a New Orleans native, has done it the last two. Ere leads the team with 19.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per contest while Price averages 17.4 points per outing. Senior point guard Quannas White, also from New Orleans, leads the team with 4.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game and sports a stellar 4.4 assist-to-turnover ratio (just 1.0 turnover per game). White is also averaging 6.1 points per game -- 10.5 over the last two outings. Bookout averages 9.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game and ranks second in the Big 12 in field goal percentage with a .617 figure.

Mississippi State, like OU, lost its opening game of the season and has gone undefeated since. The Bulldogs dropped a 79-76 decision to Lousiana-Lafayette on Nov. 23 and have gone on to beat seven opponents by an average of 26.0 points. Among their victories was a convincing 71-61 triumph over Xavier inside Madison Square Garden two games ago. MSU led by as many as 24 points against the then-No. 11 Musketeers. The Bulldogs, like the Sooners, beat Georgia State in their last game. The score was 78-54 on Dec. 18.

Junior forward/center Mario Austin sat out the team's first six games while NCAA eligibility issues were being resolved and has been superb in his two games. Austin earned SEC and several national player-of-the-week honors following his 28-point, nine-rebound effort in his debut against Xavier. He followed with 24 points and 10 rebounds against Georgia State and is averaging 26.0 points and 9.5 boards while shooting .595 from the field. Junior guard Timmy Bowers has also been stellar during the early going by averaging 17.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.9 steals per game while shooting .452 (19-for-42) from beyond the arc. Senior forward Michal Ignerski averages 10.8 points and 6.3 boards per contest.

Rick Stansbury is in his fifth year as Mississippi State's head coach and owns an 86-51 (.628) record. Stansbury spent eight years as an assistant and associate head coach for the Bulldogs under former MSU head coach Richard Williams. Stansbury led the Bulldogs to an SEC Tournament title last year and then to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The team's 27 wins were the most in school history.

Oklahoma lost both its previous games against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs beat the Sooners 76-71 in Norman in 1995-96 (Kelvin Sampson's second year at OU), the same season MSU advanced to the Final Four. Mississippi State squeaked out a 67-65 overtime decision two years later in Starkville.

Kelvin Sampson is 6-7 as Oklahoma's head coach against teams from the Southeastern Conference. OU lost its first four games to SEC foes under Sampson but has gone 6-3 since.


  • In his second game back from a three-game injury hiatus, sophomore Johnnie Gilbert scored a career-high nine points and had a season-high seven rebounds.
  • OU shot .593 from the field after halftime and a season-high .554 for the game.
  • Jozsef Szendrei saw his first action since the opener and had three points and six boards in 10 minutes.
  • Hollis Price's eight free throw makes (on eight attempts) were the most of the year for a Sooner. He is now shooting .917 from the foul line this season (33-for-36).
  • Price scored 16 first-half points while Ebi Ere netted 11 in the second half.

    The Sooners have won 19 straight games in the month of December dating back to a 60-55 loss at Mississippi on Dec. 2, 2000.

    Hollis Price and Quannas White will have plenty of fans cheering for them on Saturday at the New Orleans Sports Arena -- both hail from New Orleans. The OU starting guards teamed at St. Augustine High School under head coach Bernard Griffith and guided the Purple Knights to a Louisiana 5A state championship their senior year in 1999. Price was named the tournament's MVP. Incidentally, Price lists cajun specialty red beans and rice as his favorite food while White sides with jambalaya.

    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' next four games and it's easy to see why. Oklahoma faces No. 16/17 Mississippi State on Saturday and, following a Dec. 30 home game against UNC Asheville, will face No. 15/15 Michigan State in Oklahoma City Jan. 4 and No. 6/6 Connecticut in Norman Jan. 7. The Sooners have already faced No. 1/3 Alabama, and four future Big 12 opponents are now ranked in the AP or ESPN/USA Today top 25.

    A TOP-10 HIT
    The Sooners are ranked fifth in this week's AP top-25 poll, making it 18 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 (19.9) and Hollis Price (17.4) are averaging a combined 37.3 points per game, a figure that ranks second among Big 12 tandems (Texas Tech's Andre Emmett and Kasib Powell are averaging 38.6 points per game). Ere's and Price's points per contest would rank them seventh on the Big 12's all-time tandem scoring list. 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, 64 percent of its assists and 51 percent of its steals. The three guards have also made 64 percent of OU's free throws on the year and have taken 58 percent of its foul shots.

    In the last three games, Oklahoma has limited Hartford, Coppin State and Georgia State to respective .313, .364 and .383 field goal marks, dropping the Sooners' field goal percentage defense figure from .480 prior to the Hartford game to .427 now. Despite the marked statistical improvement, OU still ranks tied for last in the Big 12 with Texas Tech in the category.

    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 five opponents by 16.0 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 10.3 per game (38.9-28.6).

    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. Some things don't change -- the Sooners lead the Big 12 this season with only 11.9 turnovers per contest.

    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 returned to record five points and six rebounds in 19 minutes against Coppin State Dec. 14 and turned in an inspired effort against Georgia State Dec. 21 with a career-high nine points and seven boards in 19 minutes. Gilbert is 6-for-9 from the field since his return. He is now averaging 5.3 points and 4.0 rebounds over his four games.

    Guard Ebi Ere has started his senior season with a bang. The 6-5, 215-pounder led the Sooners in scoring in each of the first five games (24, 14, 27, 16 and 33 points) and ranks second in the Big 12 with his 19.9 points per outing. He also averages 6.0 rebounds to lead the team. Last year he shot .427 from the field but so far this year he sports a .520 figure. Ere also averages 2.6 assists and 1.0 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. Against 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 seven games.

    One of the best guards to ever wear an Oklahoma uniform, senior Hollis Price is averaging 17.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.9 steals per game this season. He has already passed six players (Corey Brewer, Bobby Jack, Garfield Heard, David Little, Aaron Curry and Al Beal) on the school's all-time scoring chart this season. Price now stands 16th on the career list with 1,331 points and needs seven points to tie Mookie Blaylock for 15th. 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 (.837), fifth in three-point field goal attempts (445), sixth in three-point field goals (164), sixth in steals (183), seventh in minutes played (3,364), eighth in assists (389) 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 considered a solid preseason 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."

    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 the early going this year. Forward Kevin Bookout is averaging 9.4 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting a team-high .617 from the field in 29.4 minutes per game. 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 5.9 points and 4.4 boards in 18.9 minutes per outing and registered a game-high 25 in the team's second exhibition contest. 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 3.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 8.2 minutes per outing. Collectively, the quartet has scored 135 points (19.3 per game) and grabbed 95 boards (13.6 per game).

    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 seven games, the Sooners own a .766 free throw mark.

    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 6-0 this season, is 347-59 (.855) inside the building since it opened for the 1975-76 campaign. The Sooners are 110-16 (.873) at home under ninth-year head coach Kelvin Sampson and have won 28 straight. The 28-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 fourth longest current streak (BYU 40, Tennessee Tech 33 and Gonzaga 29).


  • OU is 24-5 (.828) in neutral court games the last three-plus seasons (0-1 this year).
  • Twenty-two of Jabahri Brown's 41 rebounds have been offensive (54 percent).
  • Oklahoma led the Big 12 and set a school record last year with a .767 free throw mark. Through seven games this season, OU is shooting .766 from the foul line.
  • OU is averaging 11.9 turnovers per game while its opponents are averaging 17.4. The Sooners have committed the same or fewer turnovers than its foes in all seven games.
  • After starting the season just 4-for-24 from three-point range, Hollis Price has made 13 of his last 23 and now owns a .362 figure.
  • Ebi Ere shot .427 from the field last year but is off to a .520 start this season.
  • Ere has made 15 more field goals and attempted 21 more than the next closest Sooner (Hollis Price).
  • The Sooners own a 1.35 assist/turnover ratio through seven games while their foes sport a 0.66 figure.

    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'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 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'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 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.

    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).

    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.

    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)

    By Victories
    1. Duke (95-13)
    2. Cincinnati (85-18)
    2. Tulsa (85-23)
    4. Oklahoma (84-19)


  • Oklahoma has posted an 84-19 (.816) record over the last three years, good for an average of 28.0 wins per season during the span.
  • Oklahoma has recorded five consecutive 20-win seasons.
  • Oklahoma owns a 68-28 (.708) Big 12 Conference record.
  • Oklahoma has won the last two Big 12 Tournament championships.
  • Oklahoma has competed in each of the last eight NCAA Tournaments.
  • Oklahoma has won its last 22 home games (sixth-longest current streak in NCAA Division I).
  • Oklahoma has finished 12th (2000), 13th (2001) and third (2002) in the last three final AP polls.


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