Oklahoma-Niagara Pregame Notes

Oklahoma's Taj Gray (above left) and Niagara's Juan Mendez (above right) are set to battle in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday in Tucson. Mendez averages 23.6 points and 10.5 rebounds a game for the 20-9 Purple Eagles, who are making just their second NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 1970. The Sooners are making their 23rd trip to the big dance. Tip-off is set for 11:45 A.M. CST.

The Teams
No. 3 Oklahoma (24-7) vs. No. 14 Niagara (20-9)

The Matchup
The Sooners are making their 23rd NCAA appearance, while Niagara earned just their second trip to the big dance and first since 1970. Oklahoma is 31-22 all-time in the NCAAs. The Purple Eagles are 1-1. The OU-Niagara winner will play Saturday in the second round against the Utah-UTEP winner. The game will be broadcast on CBS by Kevin Harlan (play-by-play) and Dan Bonner (analyst). Tip-off is scheduled for 11:45 a.m. Oklahoma time. You can listen to the game live online by clicking the link below for the Sooner Basketaball Radio Network.

Listen Online

The Rankings
Oklahoma comes into Thursday's game ranked 16th in the Coaches Poll, 17th by the Associated Press and 16th in the RPI. Niagara is 81st in the RPI.

About the Purple Eagles
Niagara, a school with an enrollment of 3,548, advanced to the NCAA tournament with an 81-59 win over Rider in the finals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Tournament. The Purple Eagles, who shared the regular season MAAC title with Rider, rank fourth in the nation in scoring (85.2 ppg) and are led by a trio of seniors. Senior forward Juan Mendez averages 23.6 points and 10.5 rebounds a game and was named the MAAC Player of the Year. In the backcourt, Niagara is led by seniors Alvin Cruz and David Brooks. Brooks is the Eagles' second-leading scorer averaging 17.1 points, while Cruz averages 13.4 points and a team-high 6.4 assists. Brooks is Niagara's top threat from 3-point range having hit 75 of his 207 attempts this season. Statistically, Cruz shoots 40.9 percent (52-of-127) from 3-point range, and Lorenzo Miles isn't far behind having hit 52 of his 144 3-point attempts. Niagara has also proven they can play with teams from power conferences. The Purple Eagles dropped an 83-78 decision at Providence in their season opener, and then bounced back three games later to beat St. John's 102-81 on the road. They are 0-1 against teams in the NCAA field, having lost to Bucknell 74-72 on December 22.

Niagara Roster
Niagara Schedule/Results
Niagara Statistics

About the Sooners
Oklahoma is making their third trip to the McKale Center in Tucson for the NCAA tournament. OU beat Tulsa and Pittsburgh in 1987 en route to the Sweet 16. In 1997, the Sooners beat Winthrop in the first round and lost to Purdue in the second round. Under head coach Kelvin Sampson, OU has been in the NCAA tournament 10 out of the last 11 years. The Sooners, who are 7-2 in their last two NCAA appearances, are 10-9 in NCAA games under Sampson. Seniors Johnnie Gilbert and Jaison Williams and junior Kevin Bookout are the only three Sooners to have experienced NCAA tournament play. Gilbert played in 2001 and 2003, Bookout in 2003, and Williams, who transfered to OU before the start of the 2003-04 season, played in the 2002 tournament for Xavier. Oklahoma is making just their second appearance all-time in the NCAAs as a three-seed. The Sooners are 7-5 against this year's tournament field.

Oklahoma Roster
Oklahoma Schedule/Results
Oklahoma Statistics

The Starters
Oklahoma (24-7, 12-4)
F -- 21 -- Taj Gray (6-9, 235, Jr., 14.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.5 apg)
F -- 34 -- Kevin Bookout (6-8, 259, Jr., 11.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 0.6 apg)
G -- 3 -- Drew Lavender (5-7, 153, So., 9.6 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 3.3 apg)
G -- 4 -- David Godbold (6-5, 212, Fr., 4.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.0 apg)
G -- 20 -- Terrell Everett (6-4, 185, Jr., 12.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 5.1 apg)

Niagara (20-9, 13-5) F -- 43 -- Juan Mendez (6-8, 245, Sr., 23.6 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.1 blks)
F -- 13 -- J.R. Duffey (6-7, 220, So., 8.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
G -- 32 -- David Brooks (6-3, 220 Sr., 17.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
G -- 10 -- Alvin Cruz (6-1, 185, Sr., 13.4 ppg, 6.4 apg, 1.1 spg)
G -- 1 -- Lorenzo Miles (6-0, 190, So., 8.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg)

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