March 15, 2003

By JAIME ARON
AP Sports Writer

DALLAS - Hollis Price is the steady Sooner, the player who provides leadership and bails his team out of trouble. Rarely is he the one who causes it.

So even after Price flubbed a key possession in the last half-minute of regulation, then failed to get off a decent shot in the closing seconds, there was no doubt that Oklahoma would turn to him in overtime.

The Big 12 player of the year responded, hitting a jumper and then coming up with a big steal and a layup with 58 seconds left that sent the sixth-ranked Sooners past Bob Knight and Texas Tech 67-60 Saturday in a Big 12 tournament semifinal.

"I guess I kind of made things difficult for us," Price said, smiling. "But we take pride in our toughness and our resiliency. Other guys found ways for us to win the game."

The rest of Oklahoma's overtime points came from Ebi Ere. He had a 3-pointer that put OU ahead for good and protected the lead with two free throws. He capped the scoring with a dunk just before the buzzer - all while playing with his left hand heavily taped to protect a broken bone in his wrist.

"I'm probably more proud of Ebi now than at any time since he's been here, just because he's gutting it out," Sooners coach Kelvin Sampson said. "I admire his attitude, his personality, how he treats his teammates. He's one of those kids you pull for so much."

The victory sends Oklahoma (23-6) to the conference tournament championship game for the fourth straight year.

The Sooners have won the last two Big 12 titles and are hoping that a third will earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. OU plays Missouri in a game that tips off Sunday about the time the selection committee is running spell check on its final bracket. The Tigers advanced by beating No. 4 Kansas in the other semifinal. We know what we have in front of us," Price said. "Now we have to go out and give it our all and just play Sooner basketball."

The Red Raiders (18-12) continued their furious final-weekend push to make the NCAA tournament. Although they didn't lead after 7-6, they tied the game with two layups in the final 32.3 seconds of regulation and knotted it at 58 in overtime.

When the game ended, Knight quickly shook hands with Sampson and walked to the locker room alone. He already has given back his $250,000 base salary because of the way his team played in the regular season, but he can't be too disappointed with how Tech performed in this tournament.

The Red Raiders beat Baylor at the buzzer, then dominated No. 3 Texas. If those victories, combined with Saturday's strong effort, aren't good enough for the NCAAs, Knight has said he'll accept an NIT bid.

"If I had a vote, I'd tell you what my vote was. But I don't have a vote," Knight said. "We've worked like hell. We've done pretty good in some cases and not so well in others. We'll see what happens."

Knight really wanted this one because of lingering anger over a loss in Norman, Okla., in January. Last month, he called it "a huge thing taken away from us" because the game clock jammed in the final seconds of regulation, enabling Price to score the basket that forced overtime.

This time, the Sooners jumped to a 12-point lead at halftime, then their offense bogged down. OU scored only 18 points in the second half.

Andre Emmett and Kasib Powell scored all but two of Tech's first-half points, but they were mostly non-factors during Tech's rally - until Powell's layup with 32.3 seconds left made it 56-54.

Then Price's problems began.

He took the inbounds pass and dribbled it off his foot out of bounds before the Red Raiders could foul him. Powell followed with another layup to tie it at 56.

Price held for the winning shot, but with Powell guarding him tightly, he lost the ball on the way up for a 3-pointer. Price retrieved it and put up another shot that never came close as time expired.

"I shouldn't have settled for the 3-point shot," Price said. "I should have gotten to the goal."

He scored right away in overtime, then Robert Tomaczek answered for Tech. Ere followed with a long 3-pointer just before the shot clock ran out, putting the Sooners ahead for good at 61-60.

"It felt like we had this game once we got into the overtime," said Powell, who had 18 points. "But Oklahoma made the big defensive plays to win it."

One of them was a block by Jabari Brown with 22.1 seconds left that sent Price flying into Brown's arms in celebration.

Emmett led the Red Raiders with 19 points, 11 in the early minutes.

Quannas White had 11 points for OU and Kevin Bookout added 10 rebounds.