Jeff Capel's Sooners inch closer to Thursday's NCAA Tournament first round.
March 18, 2009
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- After an hour-and-40-minute practice at Rockhurst University early Wednesday afternoon, the Oklahoma men's basketball team made its way to downtown Kansas City and the Sprint Center to meet with media at the Sprint Center in advance of Thursday's first-round NCAA Tournament game against Morgan State.
OU, the South Region's No. 2 seed, also engaged in a light 40-minute shooting practice in front of a healthy Sprint Center crowd. The workout was capped by an array of highlight dunks and "trick" shots over the final five minutes. Included were a between-the-legs jam by Blake Griffin, a three-quarter-court make by Austin Johnson, a backwards half-court conversion by Beau Gerber and a bounced half-court bucket by Willie Warren.
Jeff Capel's squad (27-5) appeared loose yet focused as they prepared for Thursday's 8:40 p.m. CDT contest against the 15th-seeded Bears (23-11).
If OU wins its first-round game, it will play Saturday at 2:20 or 4:50 p.m. against the winner of Thursday's contest between No. 7 seed Clemson (23-8) and No. 10 seed Michigan (20-13).
The Sooners, who finished in second place in the Big 12 Conference with a 13-3 mark, are making their 26th NCAA Tournament appearance and 13th in the last 15 years.
Following are selected comments from Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel, senior forward Taylor Griffin and sophomore forward Blake Griffin from Wednesday's media conference.
|| Head Coach Jeff Capel
"We're excited to be here in Kansas City. Excited to be a part of the greatest sporting event I think in all of athletics, the NCAA Tournament.
"We're excited to play. We're anxious to play. We haven't played in a while. Been practicing, had some good practices, some spirited practices, and we're anxious to get going."
On if this week has been more about X's and O's or on the mental aspect of things:
"Both. Probably an equal amount of both of those things. We obviously started preparing for Morgan State, have a lot of respect for that team, but we spent a good part of it working on us, trying to get better, trying to improve, all those areas."
On Morgan State:
"I think they have good guards that can really score, that can go off the bounce. They're tough. They have a lot of kids from Baltimore, and those kids there, they're different. They're very, very tough. They've played a very tough non-conference schedule. It's a team that won at Maryland. It's a team that won at DePaul, a Big East team. It's a team that went to the University of Washington and played well there.
"So as a 15 seed, those kids from Morgan State, it's their first time in the tournament but they won't be in awe of the moment. They play really, really hard. I think they're very fundamentally sound on both ends of the floor. They don't turn it over, and defensively they do a good job with containment and helping each other."
On taking advantage of being a No. 2 seed:
"It's very important because these opportunities don't come around that often. I remember after my freshman year (at Duke), we lost the national championship, and I remember being up here on the stage doing the media stuff afterwards and in the locker room, and I remember thinking, you know, hey man, we'll get back here at least once, twice, during my career. I'll have another chance to win it. We never got close. The furthest we got during my last three years was the second round.
"You certainly don't want to take it for granted, and you have to be able to hopefully lay everything out there on the line. This is something I have talked to our players about. You don't want to look back, you know, a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now and think about what could have been."
|| Senior Taylor Griffin
On how practice has gone since Selection Sunday:
"You know, I think we've had some really good practices this week. I think we have worked more on ourselves, just making sure that we get back to playing Sooner basketball, playing how we were playing earlier in the season, what made us successful - just really concentrating on competing and playing hard every possession.
"Obviously, we looked at Morgan State after Sunday and we've put in a lot to defend them and how we're going to play them, but I think mostly we're working on making sure that we're ready to play and that we're ready to play our game."
On how the team has been able to regroup:
"Just getting back to playing the way that made us successful early on, playing together. We've had a few games where we've kind of been a little bit out of sync with each other. I think we really concentrate on getting back to that and relying on each other, trusting each other, which I think we've made a lot of progress over the past week. At this point in the season, that's what it comes down to, and I think that we're on our way to having a pretty successful tournament. I like the way our guys are playing together right now. I like how we're relating to each other and how we're interacting with each other on the court."
On playing on a special team and needing to take advantage of a great opportunity:
"I've known how talented this group was going to be since last summer when we started playing pickup ball together, and I knew this was going to be a special team. I knew we had a chance to make a long run in the tournament and that time is upon us. It's been a blast playing this season and having the success we've had, but none of that really matters if you go out and lose your first game here.
"I think everybody is really aware, from seniors to freshmen, of how big this is, what a big opportunity this is and that we've got to take advantage of it."
|| Sophomore Blake Griffin
On if the team is playing the disrespect card since few prognosticators are picking OU to get to the Final Four:
"I was watching ESPN today. (Actor) Samuel Jackson picked us in the championship game. That gave us a lot of confidence.
"So many people pick their Final Fours, and sometimes people are right and sometimes people are wrong. We're not worried about what other people think. Right now we need to be worried or concentrate on ourselves. Only we can control our destiny. You can come out and play a really good team, they can play well, and we can play better and we can win. We're not worried so much about what other people are thinking. We're worried about who we're playing at the time and how we're controlling ourselves."
On if the team is excited to play somebody unfamiliar:
"I'm always excited to see a different team. I think as a whole team, we're excited to play outside of our conference. So, I mean, we're definitely excited to go up against Morgan State and see what we can do."