Gray, Sooners hit the road against improved A&M

Big 12 Newcomer of the Week Taj Gray and No. 18 Oklahoma (13-2) take their seven-game winning streak to College Station for a Big 12 South Showdown with Texas A&M (12-2) tonight. A&M is 11-0 at home this season. See inside for a scouting report on the Aggies from OU assistant coach Bob Hoffman.

When Kelvin Sampson's red-hot Oklahoma basketball team tips off against Texas A&M in College Station at 8 p.m. Tuesday, they won't be facing the typical Big 12 doormat they've faced in the past.

Sampson's Sooners come into tonight's Big 12 showdown with the Aggies on a seven-game winning streak, but the A&M comes in with some confidence of their own, even though they've lost two of their last three games.

Under the guidance of first-year head coach Billy Gillispie, the Aggies are off to their best start (12-2) since the 1978-79 season. A&M started the season 11-0 before dropping two of their last three to open Big 12 play.

Critics mocked A&M's first 11 wins, which came against teams like Trinity, Texas-Permian Basin, Oakland and Prairie View A&M, but the Aggies showed they were every bit as good as their record when they went into Allen Fieldhouse and took the Jayhawks to the wire before losing 65-60 in the first Big 12 game of the year.

"Great, smart scheduling. He's just got those guys believing," said Oklahoma assistant coach Bob Hoffman. "He's got his guys believing in each other and buying into his philosophy. They're playing as tough and hard as anybody you watch. They believe in what they're trying to accomplish right now."

The Aggies' lone Big 12 win came in their next game with a 74-63 rout of Texas last Wednesday in College Station. A&M then fell to 1-2 in Big 12 play last Saturday with a 70-56 loss at Texas Tech. But tonight the Aggies return to Reed Arena, where they are 11-0 this season.

Gillispie, who coached under Kansas head coach Bill Self at Tulsa and Illinois, turned UTEP into an NCAA tournament team in just two seasons, and is on the verge of doing it again in College Station. Like Self, Gillespie's rebuilding starts with defense and rebounding.

The Aggies rank first nationally in field goal percentage defense (.352), first in the Big 12 in scoring defense (58.6 ppg) and lead the Big 12 in rebouding margin (+9.4).

A&M is young, but their 'big three' are very talented. In all, the Aggies start two freshmen, one sophomore and two juniors.

The leader of the big three is junior forward Antoine Wright (6-7, 210). Wright, who averages 17.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, can shoot it or take it inside. Wright is also the Aggies' top 3-point shooter hitting 27 of his 65 attempts.

"Antonie Wright is just really good at the two position," Hoffman said. "He can shoot jumpers and he can get to the rim."

Sopohomore point guard Acie Law (6-3, 185) is a smooth lefthander who can also shoot and slash. Law, a 43 percent 3-point shooter, also seems to play his best in the biggest games. The Dallas native, who has scored double figures in eight of his last nine games, scored a career-high 25 points against Houston, 24 against Texas and 14 against Kansas. He averages 13.3 points, 5.4 assists and four rebounds per game, but is coming off a scoreless effort in 16 minutes of action against Tech.

"Law is a lot better point guard (this year), although I know Drew (Lavender) had a great game against him last year down at College Station," said Hoffman. "Coach Gillespie's got him playing with a lot of confidence. He's hit shots against Texas and he was hitting all kinds of shots against Kansas. He didn't hit them as well against Texas Tech Saturday, but he's a hard match-up."

The anchor inside for A&M is true freshman Joseph Jones (6-9, 260). Jones is a banger inside with nice post moves for a rookie. He averages 12.5 points points and 7.9 rebounds overall and an impressive 14 points and 9.3 rebounds in conference play.

Jones more than held his own against Kansas with 16 points and seven rebounds, and followed up that performance with 13 points and 10 rebounds against Texas and then 13 and 11 against Texas Tech last Saturday.

"Jones is just a man inside," said Hoffman.

Rounding out the starting five for A&M is guard Dominque Kirk (6-3, 180) and junior guard/forward Chris Walker (6-5, 210). Walker only averages 4.7 points and 2.9 rebounds, but is the consumate role player the Aggies. Kirk, a true freshman from Dallas who has started all 14 games, is an athletic defender with the ability to score on the drive or with his jumper. Kirk averages 8.7 points per game.

"I think they've got a really good complimentary team," Hoffman said. "Antoine Wright is probably their best go-to guy, him and Law. We've just got to find ways to get stops against these guys, and then we've got to pound it inside as we've done most of the year."

Off the bench, A&M goes to junior college transfer Edjuan Green (6-7, 230) and Marlon Pompey (6-8, 225) inside. Green is a slimmer version of Jones, while Pompey is very athletic but limited in overall ability. The Aggies' main backcourt player off the bench is their lone senior — Bobby Leach (6-0, 185). Leach is A&M's fifth-leading scorer with a 5.4 average. He also shoots 50 percent (9-18) from 3-point range.

"It's going to take a lot of composure for our guys, but we've got some guys who have been on the road enough and understand," Hoffman said. "We've played in some tough places already, as far as crowds. I think that's a good thing. Plus, getting a win on the road like we had Saturday, no matter what the score was, is a huge momentum builder for tonight's game against A&M.

"They'll do everything they can to keep us from attacking inside like we like to do, but I think we're going to be able to be successful and read the things that they're going to do against us and get easy shots."

Oklahoma leads the series by a 21-1 mark. Under Sampson, the Sooners are 16-1 against A&M and 7-1 in College Station.


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