Sampson on Kansas: The key will be guard play

Kelvin Sampson talks about OU's matchup against Kansas, the emergence of Michale Neal, Kevin Bookout's wrist injury and the Sooners' five game winning streak.

OU head coach Kelvin Sampson talks about OU's matchup against Kansas. Sampson and the Sooners (14-4, 5-2) will take on Jayhawks (14-6, 5-2) at 12 p.m. Sunday in Lawrence. The game will be televised nationally on CBS.

On playing in Allen Fieldhouse

Sampson: They have great fans. Whether it was the the Larry Brown, the Roy Williams era and now the Bill Self era, the thing that remains a constant is that they understand their tradition, the history of their program and their fans embrace it.

Regardless of who they play, it's just a happening there. When you walk into Phog Allen and you walk onto that court, the thing that makes a huge difference for them is always their fans. It's one of the historical places to play, and it doesn't matter who they play.

On the Jayhawks

Sampson: Kansas is good. Bill's done a great job of developing his young kids. They may be young, but they're as talented at each position, one through nine, as anybody.

One through five, I think Texas is probably the best team in this league. One through nine though, nobody has more talent than Kansas.

On the matchup against Kansas

Sampson: I think where Kansas has really gotten better is their guards. (Russell) Robinson's really blossomed and (Mario) Chalmers is outstanding.

Brandon Rush, I think, is as good as his position as anybody in the country, not just our league. I think earlier in the year he was kind of trying to fit in being a freshman and figure out his role. Well, the role is he's their best player and he's playing like their best player now. He shoots the three, he attacks the rim, he can really run, really good rebounding guard.

Kevin and Taj are going to play good, but the key will be guard play. Our guards have to play well in the game.

On the five-game winning streak

Sampson: Well, we're playing better. I think as we've gotten healthier and our kids have come together. We have great kids, and great kids usually overcome adversity. And you're going to have it. I don't care what program it is.

Look at Texas earlier in the year versus Duke and Tennessee and look how they bounced back. Look at us against Nebraska and Missouri and how we bounced back. Look at Kansas. They lose those two games to Missouri and Kansas State and look how they bounced back.

I think that's the key. Sometimes the coach gets way too much credit. The reason this team has really played well is because of the character of our kids and how they've embraced what we've done here at Oklahoma and the part that they play in it.

I just tip my hat to our players. They've done a great job.

On finally getting to see how good Michael Neal is now that he's healthy

Sampson: Mike Neal gets a lot of credit for being an outstanding shooter, and he is. He's not going to make every shot. There will be games where he doesn't shoot as well, but the thing that is always there for him is his intangibles.

There are some guys that always have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Our help-side defense is a lot better when Mike's on the court. He rebounds both ends. He's our best interior passes. By that, I mean he gets the ball to the post guys better than any of our guards. Look at his assist to turnover ratio.

He's just a good player. Mike's not a great athlete. He's not the fastest or jumps the highest. Sometimes we tend to overrate the great athlete and maybe not pay attention to the good basketball player. And that's what Mike's strength is, he's a good basketball player.

On if Kevin Bookout's thumb injury is something he'll battle for the rest of the season

Sampson: Yeah, I think so. He's got a broken wrist. That's not a sprained ankle. Kevin spends a lot of time on the floor just because of where he plays and the type of player he is.

But if there's any kid in the county who can play with injuries, it's Kevin. God knows he's had more experience at it than anybody else, but his wrist isn't going to go away.

We X-rayed it after the game Wednesday night — Dr. (Brock) Schnebel and Alex Brown they check it daily. They're always experimenting with the kind of splint he has, the kind of cast he has, the padding that we can use. We have to go to the referees before the game and ask them, "Is this OK?" because there are rules against the cast and hardness of it that you can play with.

I don't know if there's anything else I can say about him. I have a lot of respect for that young man.

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