Nov 14, 2002

 

By JIM O'CONNELL
AP Basketball Writer

NEW YORK - No. 8 Alabama and No. 3 Oklahoma are both expected to have good seasons. The Sooners' has to get better.

Sophomore guard Mo Williams scored 25 points as the Crimson Tide won 68-62 Thursday night in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden, college basketball's season-opening event.

Crimson Tide coach Mark Gottfried was generally pleased with his team's performance in the matchup of veteran teams coming off solid seasons.

"You had two good teams playing tonight and for us to come to New York and win, this is a good way to start our season," he said. "We feel good about the game and we should, but I don't think we finished the game as well as we could have."

Sooners coach Kelvin Sampson was matter-of-fact in assessing his team's play, save for the final 5 minutes.

"We've had a lot of teams at Oklahoma that have a reputation of toughness and who play hard," he said. "And every team we've had in the last eight years would have been ashamed of that team who played the first 35 minutes. I was a bit embarrassed, but obviously there were some good things because we came back in the second half."

Both schools had four starters back from teams that won their conference tournaments last season and OKLAHOMA was coming off an appearance in the Final Four at the Georgia Dome.

"I was a little concerned something like this would happen so I'm not totally surprised by it," Sampson said. "Since we got back from Atlanta, this group of kids has had everybody tell them how great they were and pat them on the back."

Kenny Walker added 14 points for Alabama and preseason All-America Erwin Dudley had 12 points and eight rebounds. But it was Williams who came up big when the Sooners made their late run.

"Coach had a great game plan and we knew we were facing a good team tonight and didn't back down from the challenge," Williams said.

Ebi Ere had 24 points for Oklahoma, while Hollis Price had all but four of his 19 in the second half.

The Crimson Tide opened the second half with a 10-0 run that gave them a 43-25 lead with 15:24 left. Oklahoma went 5:24 without scoring to start the half, missing six shots and committing three turnovers as they fell behind by 18 points.

"Obviously I did a hell of a job with my halftime speech," Sampson said. "We came out as bad as a team can play."

Price finally started to shoot - he was 1-for-2 in the first half - and the Sooners were able to chip away, getting to 60-55 with 1:30 left on a steal and layup by Jabahri Brown.

Williams then made two free throws to restore the seven-point lead and he answered the next two times Oklahoma scored as well, never letting the Sooners closer than five points.

"Great players' tickers inside are different than others and Mo is one of them," Gottfried said.

Neither team looked smooth in the first half, but Alabama's defense let it take a 33-25 lead after 20 minutes. Price was never able to get it going on offense and Ere picked up the slack with 12 first-half points.

"I was nonaggressive in the first half," Price said. "I only had nine shots for the game and to be one of the best players I have to take more than that."

This was Alabama's first victory against Oklahoma in four meetings.

And it might've provided just a little measure of revenge for Crimson Tide fans - on Sept. 7, in a rare matchup of their football teams, then-No. 2 Oklahoma rallied in the fourth quarter past Alabama 37-27.

Memphis beat Syracuse 70-63 in the opening game of the two-day, eight-team event sponsored by AT&T Wireless.

On Friday night, Villanova plays No. 18 Marquette, and No. 4 Texas faces No. 16 Georgia.

"I was sitting with (Georgia coach) Jim Harrick during the first game and he said `Isn't this great?"' Gottfried said. "You could be home playing a typical opener opponent but if you're a player or if you're a coach, this is the game you want to play and win."