March 23, 2003

Sweet 16 Gear

By OWEN CANFIELD
AP Sports Writer

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Kelvin Sampson has often been asked where his Oklahoma team would be without Hollis Price.

Now the coach has an answer - in the semifinals of the NCAA East Regional.

Price, the Big 12 player of the year, wasn't much of a factor in Oklahoma's first two tournament games. An injured left groin limited him to eight points in 41 minutes.

Even so, the top-seeded Sooners had no trouble advancing. They beat South Carolina State 71-54 in the first round Thursday and then eighth-seeded California 74-65 on Saturday.

Oklahoma (26-6) plays tournament darling Butler on Friday in Albany, N.Y.

"I think it says a lot about our basketball team," said Sampson, who took the Sooners to the Final Four a year ago. "Hollis Price is our best player, but the mark of a good team is that your team steps up, other players step up, when given an opportunity."

Oklahoma got contributions throughout the lineup in both games. Freshman De'Angelo Alexander had a career-high 16 points against South Carolina State, and sophomore Blake Johnston came off the bench to set his career best with 15 points.

Alexander also played well against Cal, with 15 points and seven rebounds. Another freshman, forward Kevin Bookout, scored a career-high 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds after playing just nine minutes in the first-round game due to strep throat.

"The whole team had to step it up after Hollis was hurt, and just to get him back out there is a boost to the whole team," Alexander said. "He's an inspiration, and when he plays it helps our two freshmen get into the flow of the game."

Then there was senior point guard Quannas White, Price's backcourt mate. White had seven points and four assists against South Carolina State and followed that with 12 points and four assists against Cal.

On defense, Jabahri Brown and Johnnie Gilbert combined to shut down 6-foot-11 Amit Tamir of Cal, who came in averaging 15.7 points per game but scored just one Saturday night.

"We found a way to win on a day when our best player just wasn't our best player," Sampson said.

Price, who averages 19.5 points, got hurt in the closing seconds of the Big 12 tournament title game against Missouri on March 16 and did little during the week except get treatment. He was clearly bothered by the injury in Thursday's game, but moved better against California.

"He's no worse for wear from today's game," trainer Alex Brown said Saturday. "He'll get better. I think he'll be a lot better in a week."

After a weekend that saw a number of favorites either lose or barely escape, Sampson felt fortunate to move on - especially considering Price's health.

"The two games we played this weekend, we should win these two," he said. "But at the same time, upsets will occur in this tournament and I'm not sure they're upsets.

"Moving on is, you just live to play another day. We get to play Friday. The reward for playing well on Friday is you get to play on Sunday. We look at the thing as two weekend tournaments. We had a weekend tournament this weekend and we won it."