UConn can't stop Gray, Sooners

Oklahoma forward Taj Gray is fouled by Connecticut forward Charlie Villanueva as he goes up for a shot in the second half of the Sooners' 77-65 victory Monday night in Norman. Gray led the Sooners with 23 points and 10 rebounds against the Huskies' talented frontline of Villanueva and Josh Boone. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

NORMAN — Over 20 NBA scouts came to the Lloyd Noble Center Monday night to scout highly-touted Connecticut big men Charlie Villanueva and Josh Boone, but as they left it was more than likely a Sooner who made the biggest impression.

That man was junior forward Taj Gray. Gray took it at UConn's huge frontline for the tune of 23 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks as the 25th-ranked Sooners knocked off the No. 10 Huskies 77-65.

"We expected to win this game and we don't see it as an upset," said Oklahoma head coach Kelvin Sampson, who is now 3-1 against UConn. "The best part is that we still have room for improvement. It was a great game for us, but the players and coaches know that we have not arrived yet."

"First off, I'd like to say congratulations to Kelvin Sampson and the Oklahoma Sooners," said UConn head coach Jim Calhoun. "They threw the ball inside and we must have played really small because two of our big guys, aside from Charlie Villanueva, had zero defensive rebounds tonight. I think Oklahoma played terrific. I thought Taj Gray was very good down low. They are very good basketball team."

The Sooners jumped out to a quick 8-2 lead and led by as many as 14 in the first half after a Lawrence McKenzie 3-pointer gave Oklahoma a 29-15 lead at the 9:46 mark.

Kevin Bookout then picked up his third foul and the Sooners went on one of their patented scoring droughts, and UConn took advantage of it. Over the next four minutes and five seconds, the Huskies went on an 11-1 run to cut the lead to 30-26.

But that's when McKenzie, who seemingly made big shot after big shot, buried another three to push the lead back to seven and help OU take a 42-34 lead at halftime.

The Huskies would make another run in the second half and cut OU's lead to 51-48 with 12:42 to go, but Drew Lavender responded with a three, and two Taj Gray buckets later the lead was back to eight.

UConn would make one last run to cut the lead to 64-59 at the 6:26 mark, but Gray came up big at the end scoring seven points, including a two-handed stuff on a nice dish from McKenzie with 54 seconds left, in OU's 13-6 run to close the game.

"It was not just me, it was the whole team tonight," said Gray, who recorded his 7th double-double of the season. "Everyone on this team stepped up their game and everyone helped each other out. The biggest thing was that everyone was playing hard and competing and we were having fun doing it. No one was worried about scoring points. We all just worried about defensive rebounding."

One of the key Sooner players to step up was McKenzie and his spark off the bench. McKenzie, who drilled five 3-pointers that all seemed to come at clutch moments of the game, was the Sooners' second-leading scorer with 18 points.

"I was just feeling it from behind the line tonight," said McKenzie, who is averaging 16.2 points over OU's last five games. "The whole season I've been shooting well and I have been practicing my shot a lot. Tonight was just one of those nights. When the ball went inside and our big guys were being double-teamed, they kicked it out to me and I was able to knock down the shot. All the credit goes to our guys inside."

In all, five Sooners reached double figures as OU shot over 50 percent (31-59) for the ninth time this season. Joining Gray and McKenzie with double digits was Bookout with 11, and Terrell Everett and Lavender with 10 apiece.

Oklahom's defense, particulary Gray and Bookout inside, was tough all night holding the Huskies to 35 percent shooting from the floor. The Sooners' interior defense did a great job holding UConn's leading scorer — center Josh Boone who came into the game averaging 16.6 points and 10.6 rebounds — to just two points and three rebounds.

"Our goals were to hold them to 65 points and get good transition baskets and focus on our rebounding," said Sampson. "They outrebounded us by three, but we consider that a victory because they have been outrebounding their opponents by 18. They're the leading rebounding team in the country."

"This is a good start for our team," said Gray. "From here on out we have no limitations as to how far we want to go. Connecticut is a great team and this is a big win for us. Right now this is a confidence booster, but we have to keep going. This is a long season. We have to build on this and keep it going."

Next up for the Sooners is a trip to Waco, Texas for a Big 12 south match-up with Baylor on Saturday.

OU-UConn Box Score

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories