March 22, 2003

 

By OWEN CANFIELD
AP Sports Writer

OKLAHOMA CITY - A couple of freshman helped make sure Oklahoma senior Hollis Price gets to keep playing in the NCAA tournament.

Kevin Bookout scored a career-high 22 points and De'Angelo Alexander had 15 as the top-seeded Sooners reached the East Regional semifinals with a 74-65 victory over eighth-seeded California on Saturday.

Price, the Big 12 player of the year, is bothered by a left groin injury that limits his quickness. After playing 11 minutes in the first round against South Carolina State, he logged 30 minutes against Cal but scored just three points.

"We have a lot of good players on this team," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said. "The mark of a good team is that other players step up when given an opportunity.

"De'Angelo and Bookout, those guys came through."

Oklahoma, which reached the Final Four a year ago, will play either Louisville or Butler in the regional semifinals next week in Albany, N.Y.

Bookout played only nine minutes in Thursday's game because of strep throat, and he failed to score. He felt much better Saturday.

The 6-foot-8, 260-pound forward had 11 points in the first half, then scored three baskets in a 9-0 run at the start of the second half that gave Oklahoma (26-6) control for good.

He had a putback, then got down the floor for a fastbreak layup on a pass from Price, and finally capped the run with a shot in the lane to make the score 42-24.

"I think Kevin just came out with a lot of confidence today," Sooners point guard Quannas White said. "He played like a sophomore or junior today, not like a freshman. That's what we need from him this late in the season for us to continue to be good."

Sampson said the Sooners emphasized getting the ball inside against Cal's zone in the second half after not doing so in the first half. Bookout was 5-of-7 from the field in the final 20 minutes.

"I get to go to the Sweet 16 as a freshman. I couldn't ask for too much more," Bookout said. "We didn't want this to be his (Price's) last game. He's done so much for us. We had to pick him up a little bit because he's so hurt."

The Bears (22-9) trailed 62-51 after seven straight points from Brian Wethers, who tied his career high with 27 points. But a jumper by Alexander, a three-point play by Bookout and an alley-oop dunk by Johnnie Gilbert made it 69-51 with 3:58 left.

A 10-0 run by Cal cut the margin to eight with 1:32 to go, but the Bears got no closer than seven the rest of the way.

"Oklahoma plays consistently, and they play tough," Cal coach Ben Braun said. "You've got to be consistent. You can't have lulls."

The Bears started out with a lull, and Alexander started quickly.

They got their first three baskets off loose balls: a dunk by Bookout, a three-point play by Alexander as the shot clock wound down and a 3-pointer by Alexander after Price got the ball following a Cal turnover.

"That's what our program is about - outhustling the other team, and that's what we did today," Price said.

Alexander's second 3-pointer made the score 15-4, and Oklahoma eventually pushed the lead to 29-14 on a shot inside by Bookout off a feed from White with 6:21 to go.

But Cal, which was 6-of-16 from the field at that point, went 4-of-7 the rest of the way and held Oklahoma to four points to pull to 33-24 at halftime. It would have been closer if the Golden Bears had hit their free throws; they missed four of five, including the front of a one-and-one.

Joe Shipp scored 20 for the Golden Bears. Amit Tamir, who came in averaging 15.7 points per game, had a free throw and that was it.

Before leaving the court after the game, Sampson and his players applauded the overwhelmingly pro-Sooner crowd, which responded with a huge ovation.

"The fans are great. We couldn't ask for anything else," Price said. "We really appreciate what they did for us these past two games."