It's a long way from the OK Corral, but Thursday's meeting between Oklahoma and Arizona might be the most exciting showdown to date in the 2002 NCAA Tournament. Tip-off in San Jose, California is scheduled for 6:55 p.m. central.
This will be the third meeting in the NCAA Tournament between the Sooners and Wildcats. OU has won the previous two; an 86-78 victory in the '88 Final Four, and a 61-60 upset of the fourth-seeded ‘Cats in '99. Victory No. 3 is going to be tough because ‘Zona is good, REAL good.
As we've discussed before, Oklahoma is a team with an "X" factor. Oklahoma's Mr. "X", Ebi Ere, is the pulse that keeps OU's NCAA heart beating.
We know that Price and McGhee will get their points, but Ere is the man that must play well for OU to advance.
Arizona is no different from Oklahoma in that respect. Everybody in the country knows that their great tandem of guard Jason Gardner and forward Luke Walton will score points in one way or another.
What has made ‘Zona click in the tournament is their own Mr. "X", Channing Frye. Frye, a freshman center, posted a double-double in their 68-60 second round win over Wyoming, going for 18 points and 11 rebounds. Frye's defense will be absolutely crucial to the Arizona cause, as he will most likely to be called upon to help Luke Walton double team Aaron McGhee in the low post.
Arizona is a very good and very deep team. Aside from Gardner, Walton and Frye, they also feature freshman guard Salim Stoudamire and junior forward Ricky Anderson. Both of these players average double figures in points, and each will most certainly be a tough defensive assignment for the Sooners.
Another problem Oklahoma could run into is foul shooting. In their first two games in Albuquerque, Arizona went to the foul line a mind-boggling 70 times while their opponents have visited the charity stripe on only 22 occasions. It is fair to say that the officials are going to call the touchy stuff for the ‘Cats; therefore Oklahoma is going to have to be very smart in their defense of Arizona; otherwise the freebies could do the Sooners in.
This should be a great one. Look for Hollis to knock down the key shots and for Aaron to bruise and bang Walton into submission. The key still is Ebi Ere. If he is on and goes for 20 then the Sooners will win this one by double-digits. If he is not then Oklahoma is in for one heck of a war.
Personally, I see Ere going for 22 as the "Lack of Respect Ends NOW" Tour rolls into the Elite 8.
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