Game #31 - Oklahoma vs. Cal

<p class=txt>Only 16 teams will remain in the NCAA Tournament after Sunday - the absolute brutal truth of how swift the end can come for some programs. For many players, it's the end of a career. March Madness is primarily about survival for those teams who do find a way to advance. It's a chance to 'keep on playing', and that phrase is one of the key ingredients in March Madness upsets. The Big Dance is all about drama and emotion. How can you not love it?

It is amazing to me how fast emotions can swing in College Basketball. After Scooter Sherrill drilled a 25-footer with 13 seconds remaining to put the Wolfpack up 1, it did seem Cal had taken a direct hit out of the tournament. However, Richard Midgley hit the shot of his early Cal career to vault the Bears into a 2nd Round match-up with the hometown favored #1 seed Oklahoma Sooners. 

"I just saw Joe (Shipp) go to the bucket and he found me and I hit the shot. I wasn't really worried about what happened earlier in the game. Basically Joe got the board and took the whole team to the bucket. I spotted up and it felt good when it came out of my hand." - Richard Midgley on his game-winner

There was no doubt in my mind that the first time I saw Richard Midgley play, I knew he was going to do some great things in the NCAA Tournament. He has all the intangibles of a big-game player. Whether you want to call him 'Sir Richard, Richard 'the Lionhearted', or even the 5th Beatle for that matter…Midgley is a Star. 

The Sooners have their own stars though, and they are a team with New Orleans on their mind. 

Here is a quick look at the 2002-03 Oklahoma Sooners: 

Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning starters in Bold) 
G- Quannas White 6'1 190 Sr (8.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.2 spg, 47% 3-Ptr's) 
G- Hollis Price 6'1 170 Sr (19.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.5 spg, 44% 3-Ptr's) 

G- DeAngelo Alexander 6'4 215 Fr (6.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 0.8 apg, 35% 3-Ptr's) 
PF- Johnnie Gilbert 6'8 230 So (3.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
C- Kevin Bookout 6'8 260 Fr (9.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg) 

Key Reserves: 
Ebi Ere 6'5 215 Sr (13.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 31% 3-Ptr's)
Jabahri Brown 6'10 210 Jr (6.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.5 apg) 
Blake Johnston 6'1 185 So (2.8 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 1.7 apg)
Jozsef Szendrei 6'9 240 Sr (1.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
Matt Gipson 6'9 225 Fr (1.9 ppg, 1.1 rpg)

Perhaps the most notable duo in all of College Basketball is the OU backcourt of Quannas White and Hollis Price. Winding down the final stretch of their collegiate career, White and Price actually played together in High School at St. Augustine in New Orleans. With the Final Four in New Orleans in just a few weeks I believe there is obvious motivation for this outstanding duo. Price came directly to Norman out of HS and he's been as reliable a combo guard as there ever has been in College Basketball. Not only does he shoot the ball well, but also Hollis is perhaps the toughest minded backcourt player in the country. He is a rock, and was recently named the Big 12 Player of the Year. Unfortunately for Price, he does have a painful groin injury that he suffered during the closing seconds of the Big 12 final. Showing his toughness, Price still gets out there and competes though. Price believes he'll be about 80% for Saturday's game. Quannas White didn't come directly to Norman like his High School teammate Price, taking two years at Midland (TX) Community College to improve his grades. He's a savvy player who brings patience, speed, and timely scoring. Also starting the past 4 games is Freshman DeAngelo Alexander, the Oklahoma City native who was one of the 20 best High School Senior's according to Bob Gibbons last year. Alexander has solid size and rebounding skills for a guard, and he reminds me some of Brandon Roy, Washington's superb Frosh. Sophomore Blake Johnston usually sees 5 minutes a game as well. 

In the frontcourt, Kelvin Sampson uses two of his three best players off the bench - a move he started four games ago after a 77-71 loss in Norman to Texas. Senior Ebi Ere plays more like a guard, and he'll remind Cal fans of Keith Langford of Kansas due to his size. Ere can defend and perform better than most true small forwards. Ere is also banged up though, playing with a broken non-shooting hand. Jabahri Brown is the other performer who comes off the bench for Sampson, and he's one of the best above-the-rim players in the Big 12. Brown combines with Freshman Kevin Bookout to form the Sooners inside presence. Bookout is suffering from strep throat at the moment. Senior Jozsef Szendrei and Freshman Matt Gipson provide depth.

Though the Sooners are banged up right now, I don't believe it'll hurt their emotion. This is a program that is not light on confidence. We might see the Sooners rally around their injuries, and their best weapon is truly the brilliance of Kelvin Sampson - the former Pac-10 Coach at Washington State. Coach Sampson combines wit, smarts, and respect for the game as part of his talents. Nationally speaking, he might be the most underrated Coach in the country. When asked about his Freshman Center Kevin Bookout's illness, Sampson replied, "As soon as I took him out of the game he started throwing up. Of course, if he had missed another shot, I would have thrown up." Sampson has a way of keeping his players focused, enthralled, and passionate. 

Oklahoma has won four games in a row, and by winning the Big 12 Conference Tournament, secured a #1 seed in Oklahoma City. They made the Final Four last year. By bringing back four of their top five players, adding two standout Freshmen, and mixing in three role players, the Sooners are in the exact spot most experts thought they'd be at the beginning of the year. They are major National Title contenders. By playing just 20 minutes from their Norman campus, Oklahoma is a heavy home favorite.

California 2002-03 Team

Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning Starters in Bold) 2002-03 Statistics 
PG- Richard Midgley 6'1 200 Fr (9.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.8 apg, 46% 3-ptrs) 
SG- Brian Wethers 6'5 215 Sr (14.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.1 apg, 40% 3-Ptr's) 
SF- Joe Shipp 6'5 220 Sr (20.4 ppg, 6.2 Top Stories