Sampson, Sooners happy to be back in the Big Dance

Oklahoma head coach Kelvin Sampson signs autographs following practice on Wednesday in Tucson, Ariz. See inside for quotes from Sampson, Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich and select players from Wednesday's press conference. Tip-off for tomorrow's first round matchup is set for 11:45 a.m. CST. (AP Photo/Laura Rauch)

Below are select quotes from Oklahoma and Niagara's press conference Wednesday in Tucson, Ariz. courtesy of

Oklahoma head coach Kelvin Sampson:
On Niagara compared to other high-major Division 1 schools

"Juan Mendez (Niagara forward) could start for any team in our conference. We just played a fast, I mean fast, point guard in Jarrius Jackson (Texas Tech), and Alvin Cruz (Niagara point guard) is every bit as fast.

"Wake Forest and Duke have about 5,000 students, but they have great players. I don't know how many students go to Niagara, but they have three players who could play just about anywhere, and they've got good players around them."

On not making the NCAA tournament last year after going for nine straight years
"I was proud of my team last year for what they accomplished. When we lost Kevin Bookout and Jason Detrick and those guys for almost three months of injuries, for that team to go 8-8 in the league and win 20 games, they accomplished as much as this team did.

"I've always been proud of our program. You might hit a rebuilding year now and then, but we went to the Final Four and the Elite Eight back to back (2002-03) and won the conference tournament both years. But those kids left. We played brand new kids last year.

"Last year was last year. When you look at this year we won the Big 12 regular season championship, we were co-champs with Kansas. So, I'm proud of our program."

On playing in Tucson instead of Oklahoma City
"I'm a little disappointed in the weather. Where's the 80 degrees? Thirty-seven degrees in Tucson last night, what is up with that?

"I'm just glad to be anywhere. After last year, it wouldn't have mattered to me if we were in Siberia. I'm just glad to be in the tournament. We were gathered together watching the selection show the other day and I think we were the 62nd or 63rd team mentioned.

"I was a little spooked after last year, I turned to Joe Castiglione, our athletic director and said 'Joe, we're going to get in, aren't we?'"

OU Forward Kevin Bookout:
On being double-digit favorites

"We have to look at it like any other game. If we don't come out and play the way we are capable of playing, then anyone can beat us. We have showed that in the past couple of games. If we come out and play Sooner basketball then we can beat anyone."

On Niagara's up-tempo style of play
"We can't let them dictate the game. We have to defend and rebound. If we get in a running match, that's going to favor them because that's how they're used to playing. If we slow it down and play transition defense, we'll have a great chance to win."

On being back in the tournament
"I had injured my shoulder last year. I felt the pain from off the court, but it's completely different when you're playing every game and putting your heart and soul on the court. It was hard to watch from the sidelines knowing that I could have gotten an extra basket or an extra rebound that could have helped us get into the tournament last year.

"It did hurt and that's what made this summer so motivating. Getting up early in the morning and running and shooting, that's the reason we are here right now."

OU Forward Johnnie Gilbert:
On missing the tournament last season
"Last year was very difficult for us as a team. We were so disappointed. We play to be a part of the NCAA Tournament. We're glad to be back in it, but at the same time you have to prepare yourself to play the game."

On playing a small school like Niagara
"A lot of people don't talk about them or know about them and that gives them extra motivation. They are one of the top-scoring teams in the nation. They are a good all-around team. It doesn't matter who you are, if you make it to the tournament you automatically have elite status."

On Niagara forward Juan Mendez:
"We have been watching a lot of film on him. He is a real good player. He can go inside or outside. He is a tremendous rebounder and he hits the boards hard. We have to stop him as a team. We can't do it individually. He'll get points, but we have to contain him. We have to do our best to defend him."

Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich
On being the underdog

"It is nice not to have the bullseye on our back. Even though we weren't preseason-picked to win our league, our guys knew we were the best all along. It is nice not to be wearing the bullseye on our back."

On Oklahoma
"This is a team that could win the national championship. They're just as good as anybody in this tournament and a lot of it's because of Kelvin Sampson. He's done a great, great job. But I don't know him personally."

"Like I always say, they've got McDonald's All-Americans on their team and we've got guys that eat McDonald's."

On his three senior starters
"I never dreamed any one of those three guys (Juan Mendez, Alvin Cruz, David Brooks) would ever be as good as they are. They're all very good basketball players. To say that Juan Mendez would be as good as he is, or Alvin (Cruz) or David (Brooks), they've re-written our record books.

"You hope, you pray, you sense that they're going to be good players. But you don't know until you see them every day in practice. I don't know if Juan (Mendez) is going to be an NBA player. He might be. He just might be."

Niagara Guard David Brooks:
On the matchup with Oklahoma

"We saw a couple of Oklahoma's games. They're big down low. They have a couple of really athletic guards and they play good defense. As long as we get out and run the ball in transition, we'll be okay."

Niagara Senior Alvin Cruz:
On how Niagara big man Juan Mendez matching up with a Big 12 school like Oklahoma "I know (Juan) can finish as well as anyone in the nation. I know he can play against the big teams. We played Providence with Ryan Gomes and he scored 20-something. We played Nebraska last year in the NIT and he scored 20-something, so I know he can play against anyone."

On the key to beating Oklahoma
"We know we can score a lot, and I think we can run on them. But to do that, we have to play good defense, which we've struggled with all year. The key for us will be to get out and run on them."

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