Sampson says Sooners ready to start Big 12 play

OU Basketball Coach Kelvin Sampson talks about Saturday's conference opener with Colorado and the state of his Sooners heading into Big 12 play. Tip-off for Saturday's OU-Colorado game is set for 3 p.m. at the Lloyd Noble Center. Sampson is 13-2 against Colorado and 8-0 against the Buffs in Norman.

When Oklahoma begins Big 12 play at 3 p.m. Saturday inside the Lloyd Noble Center against Colorado, Kelvin Sampson knows he has a lot better feel about his team than a year ago.

Last season, the Sooners jumped out to a 11-0 start, but an 86-59 loss at Connecticut in their final non-conference game triggered what would be an 0-3 start in Big 12 play.

Sampson said last year's team had already tapped out by the time conference play started, but this year is a different story.

"I like the fact that we're playing our best basketball thus far right now," said Sampson. "I think we were better the last couple of games. We're better now than we were at any point in the non-conference season. We're ready to start conference play."

"The thing that excites this coaching staff is that these kids know they're going to get better," Sampson continued. "They're going to continue to improve. Not every team can improve, sometimes you are what you are.

"We've had teams that once we got to conference season were just hanging on. We went on and won a lot of big games and got to the tournament. But this team, because of our youth and the two new guys — Terrell Everett and Taj Gray — as we go through this thing we'll see improvement in this team."

Colorado comes into Saturday's Big 12 opener at 8-3 and on the heels of a big road win at Richmond on Tuesday. The Buffaloes, whose three losses were against Michigan, Oregon State and Utah, are led by freshman guard Richard Roby (14.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and junior forward Chris Copeland (13.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg).

See below for more of Sampson's comments from Friday's interview with James Hale on the Sports Animal on Saturday's match-up with the Buffaloes, the state of his Sooners the beginning of Big 12 play.

On the start of Big 12 play
"The start of conference season is important for everybody to get off to a good start. We're moving in the right direction.

"We're not a finished product right now. As we go through the season you're going to see this team win some big games. You're going to see them get better, but like any team that has some youth they may confound you sometimes.

"I like this team. I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoy coaching this team. At 3 o'clock every day when we practice I can't wait to go to the gym to see them."

On the non-conference schedule
"I think we were better the last couple of games. The thing about non-conference is you give yourself a chance to win, throw in tough enough games to challenge your team and see if you get better. I think we're better now than we were at any point in the non-conference season. We're ready to start conference play."

On different players stepping up
"We've got an idea of what our rotation is. They don't always play as you would hope they would. One of the things you tell a young team is you don't want to be playing your best basketball in November and December, and we certainly did not."

On how the team is playing defensively
"They're getting better. I think back and the defensive performance that sticks out most in our mind was the 96 points we gave up to Washington. We just weren't very good that night on the perimeter. I think we've steadily improved in that area as we've gone through the non-conference campaign we've had games were we we've been really good.

"The last two games, even though they weren't against a Duke or a Washington, you could still see improvement in certain areas. I think Lawrence McKenzie is starting to play harder on defense and understand the importance of it. Jaison Williams and Terrell Everett are a big improvement over the way we played any point last year defensively."

On the status of Kevin Bookout
"Hurt. He's got a ulnar nerve (right elbow) thing going that's kind of held him out. He hasn't practiced much. It sounds like a familiar refrain, but that's the value of having Longar Longar in there. Kevin's going to get healthy, but Longar is the one that really benefited from that.

"That's the great thing about non-conference, I like the fact that Longar Longar and David Godbold got a lot of minutes, especially here recently, and showed that they can help us. They're certainly going to get an opportunity to play from here on in."

On Bookout's status for Colorado
"Yeah, Kevin's going to play. Kevin's going to start tomorrow."

On the improved play of senior guard Jaison Williams
"Jaison's a system player. He's not great by himself. He's a better player when you put good players around him. Last year, I don't know that we ever were in sync or able to play a certain style and be good at it. We were always searching, especially after December when injuries hit.

"Our team's a lot more settled now. We've got some experience coming back, kids are a year older, a year better. A guy like Jaison can fit into something. He hasn't had something he fits with, but Terrell Everett's really helped him.

"I think Taj and Kevin have given us an inside presence, and Longar coming along have helped a guy like Jaison because he's a pretty good interior passer."

On the Big 12
"I think the top three schools in our conference right now can play with the top schools anywhere. I think Kansas, Oklahoma State and Texas are the top three in our conference right now. I think those three are as good as anybody's three.

"The thing that's tough about the Big 12 is the South. We're pretty good. I think A&M's really improved. Baylor is a lot better now than they were a month ago. They won at Purdue and went on a four or five game winning streak.

"The South is going to be a tough, tough division in the conference this year because there's no weak links."

On Saturday's game match-up with Colorado
"Their best player is the Roby kid — a 6-foot-6 wing that can really, really score. The thing about him is he can put it on the floor and create. He's a big wing, can shoot, can pass. He'll be a match-up problem. They have a 6-8 four man (Chris Copeland) that's more of a 15-foot and out guy than he is a 15-foot and in guy.

"Their last game they won at Richmond and I think Copeland had 25. They've won at Cal, they won at Richmond. Ricardo's (Patton) teams are always good. Last year, I thought they were really good. They had a lot of big wins last year.

"I like the fact that we're playing our best basketball thus far right now. I think we'll match-up well with Colorado if we can guard them off the dribble. They're more of a personnel-based team than a system team. They'll try to beat you with their individual players more than they'll try and beat you with their system."

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