Below are excerpts from OU head coach Kelvin Sampson's interview with James Hale this morning on The Sports Animal.
On the team playing better basketball over the past week
Sampson: There's no question. When you make shots it's amazing how much better your team looks, isn't it?
On not having their best shooter, Michael Neal, in the lineup possibly making the difference in their close losses to Missouri and at Nebraska
Sampson: Making shots can be contagious, just like missing shots.
I think his prodcution is correlated to his health. Without him, we go 3-for-16 against Missouri and 4-for-17 (against Nebraska) and both were 1-point games. Well, Missouri might as well been a 1-point (game). They scored the two free throws after the game was tied up with one second to go.
You know, we think we're playing better. You can't do anything about those two games. It's easy to look back and say what if and what if, but that's not going to get you anywhere.
As we've gotten healthier, our team's gotten better. Whether that's good enough tomorrow night, we'll see. But this is a great, great opportunity for OU. I know that.
On Taj Gray's play in the second half against Baylor and Kevin Bookout's performance despite his injured left wrist
Sampson: He (Bookout) played with his heart. You're not going to play great with a broken wrist. Kevin's had a great year thus far, but he's restricted and he'll do the best he can.
Taj Gray, the second half, I thought played a lot more aggressive, went after rebounds. If you go after 11 rebounds, there's a good chance you're going to get six or seven. Well, if that's what you are then that's what you're going to be.
If Taj goes after 25-26 rebounds there's a good chance he's going to get 15 or 16 of them. So, our key with Taj is to be way more aggressive.
On Texas also playing their best basketball of the year and what concerns him about the Longhorns
Sampson: They're really good inside and outside.
Daniel Gibson, (A.J.) Abrams and (Kenton) Paulino — all three are really good 3-point shooters. And, obviously, Gibson is just an outstanding player. Period. (P.J.) Tucker, (Brad) Buckman and (LaMarcus) Aldridge are really good inside players. Aldridge, obviously, being a star.
I say the key is Tucker. He's one of those guys that does just the dirty work, and Buckman stretches the defense with the three. I don't know if there's one thing that concerns me as much a multitude of things.
On the tough matchup against P.J. Tucker with his inside and mid-range game
Sampson: I think he's a tough matchup for everybody. He's a really good mid-range shooter, but he does most of his damage with offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, running the floor. He's just a tough guy. I just think he's a warrior.
On what Texas does defensively that could cause problems
Sampson: Well, they're long in the zone. They play mostly zone. They may open up and throw some man-to-man at you. We played them twice last year and of the 80 minutes they probably played 70 minutes of zone.
When we beat them here last year, we only shot 35 percent against them but managed to win because we had 26 offensive rebounds. I don't know if you can do that with Buckman, Tucker and Aldridge in there.
They're long. It's a little bit of the Syracuse syndrome. You've got length on that back line and 6-2, 6-3 guys out front that are quick. But just like against any other defense, you've got to make shots. And Texas forces you to make shots.
Texas is probably going to open up with man-to-man, but within the first two timeouts they'll be in zone. For us, we've just got to really, really do our stuff. Beating Texas is a tough chore, but our kids are looking forward to it, I can tell you that.
Sampson on Texas
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