Cowboys Depart for Chicago

STILLWATER – The airport crew was just starting to cart the long line of luggage around the terminal and out to the Allegiant Airlines charter 727 as the white Jeep pulled up to the Stillwater Airport terminal door and out stepped Oklahoma State basketball head coach Edie Sutton. Sutton was one of the last of the official travel party to arrive along with his son and head coach designate Sean.

Inside the small terminal the excitement could be felt as the Cowboys dressed in their travel gray Nike warm-up suits. The cheerleaders, pom squad members, athletic department staff, and basketball staff and families were all anxious to board the jet and head to Chicago for Thursday night's showdown with third-seeded Arizona.

Camera crews from two Oklahoma City television stations were there to document the departure. Many in the traveling party were toting cameras to record personal memories of what they all hope will be a second straight drive to the Final Four. In the words of one athletic department staff member, "it's a pretty damn big deal."

It is a big deal as much of the nation will be focused in on the Cowboys' game with the Wildcats from the suburban Allstate Arena outside Chicago that is scheduled to tip off at 8:57 p.m. Thursday on CBS. As the Cowboys were leaving for Chicago there were all kinds of subplots to the build up of Thursday's showdown.

To start with there's Joey Graham. The standout 6-7 senior force was anything but a force in the first round 63-50 win over Southeastern Louisiana. He wasn't much more productive in the second round 85-77 win over Southern Illinois. Graham combined for 15 points, five rebounds, six assists and eight turnovers in the two games in Oklahoma City. The ever active sports media has speculated his knee is injured more severely than reported, he's upset that his twin brother Stevie is no longer in the starting lineup, or he is ready for his OSU career to be over so he can get ready for the NBA. Graham says he pays little attention to the media.

"No, I really don't read the paper," said a calm Graham as he sat waiting to board the charter. "I heard there were some things in there, but this is just about me going out there and playing my type of game. When we start getting in these tournament games a lot of the focus is on the top players, and that just opens things up for my teammates. I do know I need to pick it up and play better, and I will."

Teammate John Lucas said he's not worried, Graham is ready to go off and the explosion only he can create within the Oklahoma State lineup may take place in Chicago against Arizona.

"He's ready to play," said Lucas of his teammate. "Like I said in Oklahoma City, it's hard because a lot of the defenses key on him. He'll be ready and I can't wait until Chicago when he has that break out game and everybody will quit worrying about him."

Freshman JamesOn Curry, the Cowboys' lone starting non-senior, knows he will answer another round of questions about his arrest for selling marijuana in high school and the fact he is helping OSU toward the Final Four rather than wearing Carolina blue in the Syracuse Regional. The real story is how this freshman is fearless on the court and has no problem firing up important game deciding shots.

"My family, my up bringing, and just being around basketball all my life," Curry answered when asked why he's so cool under pressure. "The experience I had growing up. I played against all of the top players in the country like Chris Paul (Wake Forest All-American) and all those guys at Carolina. I've either played with them or against them, so I don't have anyone I fear. Respect, but no fear."

The Cowboys will face as potent a lineup as they have faced all season in Arizona. Defensive stopper Daniel Bobik is banged up and he'll likely be the guy the Cowboys sic on Wildcats leading scorer and three-point bomber Salim Stoudamire.

"Everybody at this time of the year is going to be banged up and have things that are bothering them," said Bobik of a sore hip. "I took a shot hustling for a ball and my leg tightened up a little bit, but I have a few days before the game so I will be okay. Murph (trainer Murphy Grant) has done a real good job with me and I should be fine by game time."

Assistant coach James Dickey boarded the plane toting his tan leather briefcase, inside are the scouting reports the Cowboy players will study the next 48 hours as they prepare for Arizona. Dickey, a long time Sutton lieutenant, has watched more tape than anybody on the staff and knows well the challenge that awaits.

"They are balanced," said Dickey of the Pac-10 runner-up Arizona. "They have three players that average in double figures and they can hurt you in a lot of different ways. Certainly, Stoudamire is a guy that can get it going in a hurry. You cannot leave him and you have to know where he is at. You can't help off of him and can't lose him in transition. He is one of the best in the country.

"(Channing) Frye inside is a shot blocker and is tough on the low post. Then you have (Hassan) Adams, who is a hard driver and a mid-range player. They have (Mustafa) Shakur that can drive and (Ivan) Radenovic will make shots and post up. They only play about eight guys but they are very talented. We will have to do a great job and play for 40 minutes."

By the time you read this the Cowboys will have checked into their O'Hare Marriott headquarters for this leg on the Road to the Final Four. The goal is to not check out until Sunday, and before they leave the Chicago suburb of Rosemont that they punch their ticket for the final leg of March Madness and the trip to St. Louis.

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