NORMAN -- Faced with injuries, foul trouble and utter exhaustion, Oklahoma turned to their unquestioned leader, Hollis Price, to take control and lead them to a win over Connecticut.
The senior from New Orleans responded with 33 points, a career high, to lead his team to victory in a game that should put OU back in good graces with a media base that had begun to question their place among the nation's elite. It wasn't easy.
After jumping out to an early 20-7 lead, Quannas White banged knees with a Husky defender and was helped to the locker room with 11:32 remaining in the first half. This injury was particularly costly because Blake Johnston sprained his left ankle last week and his status was up in the air leading up to the game. The only man left to play point guard was Hollis Price.
"Hollis came through tonight with his ability to make plays and do the right things," said Kelvin Sampson. "Hollis is Hollis. Nothing he does surprises me anymore."
Leading the offense through a period of transition and confusion until Blake Johnston stepped in, Price kept the Huskies at bay. His three-pointer as time expired in the first half gave Oklahoma a 37-24 lead and brought a crowd once wrought with nervousness to its feet.
For a team like Connecticut that averages 90 points a game, 24 in a half is a little thin. In the opening 20 minutes, UConn was 10-of-32 from the field after missing several short shots that could have turned the flow of the game. Husky mastermind Jim Calhoun was quick to lay the blame on his young players as well as the suffocating Oklahoma defense.
"I think some of our youth showed and some of the older players deviated from their normal shots," Calhoun said. "Kelvin Sampson does a great job. His teams are known for their mental toughness. Their defense disrupted us offensively and it only got worse during the second half. Clearly, they are a very good team."
Another key to Oklahoma's success was the containment of UConn's premier scorer, Ben Gordon. Gordon came into the contest averaging 22 points a game while shooting 50 percent from behind the three-point arc. OU stifled him all night long, forcing him to go 5-of-18 from the field to tally only 10 points.
"He (Gordon) played a poor game," Calhoun said. "He's a wonderful player but he took himself out of the game. You have to give credit to their kids. I give credit to OU."
The Sooners came out smoking in the second half, connecting on their first three attempts from behind the arc to build a 51-31 lead with 16:47 to play. After Hollis Price sank a short jumper in the lane with 13:33 left to lead 53-35, Oklahoma hit the wall. Eleven straight possessions went fruitless for the Sooner offense, and the once boisterous crowd at the Lloyd Noble Center began pulling on neck collars that had all of a sudden become very tight.
By the time the Husky run was complete, the score was 57-52 and the mood was downright gloomy. Then the Phoenix arose from the ashes.
Quannas White emerged from the Sooner bench to a standing ovation and promptly gathered a rebound on the defensive end. He was fouled, and he calmly sank two free throws on the other end to give Oklahoma a 59-52 lead with just over three minutes to play. He had been on the bench for nearly 28 minutes since his knee was tweaked, but his presence on the court gave OU a since of hope.
"Quannas coming back was huge," said Price. "He got right back in and knocked down those two free throws and we got out of our scoring slump."
Free throws were a theme the rest of the way for Oklahoma. As a team, the Sooners went 18-of-19 over the final 4:43. Price himself was 10-for-10.
The praise will come from all over the nation for Price following this career night, but he might not receive any compliments as lofty as those heaved upon him from Calhoun.
"What I really liked about Price is early, he didn't look for his shot. He looked for his teammates, which I reminded some of our kids of," Calhoun said. "He certainly looked like a first-team All-American tonight."
Oklahoma will return their defensive clinic to the floor on Saturday in the team's Big 12 Conference opener against Colorado. Anybody know when the media relations department will begin manufacturing Hollis Price for All-American mousepads? This week might be a good time to start.
BMart's Player of the Game
If I Think With My Head: Hollis Price – 33 points, 2 assists and 2 rebounds in 37 minutes of action. Honorable Mention goes to the defensive play of both Johnnie Gilbert and Jabahri Brown. They made shots in the lane about as fun as a root canal with dirty utensils and no Novocain.
BMart's Player of the Game
If I Think With My Heart: Quannas White – His return following an injury and the subsequent standing ovation that coincided with his slow stroll onto the court reminded me of Nate Erdmann returning to the floor following an ankle sprain to spark the Sooners to victory against Kansas in '96.
BMart's Play of the Game
Johnnie Gilbert's tip and save to Blake Johnston late in the first half. A long pass down-court that looked to be going towards an easy lay-up was thwarted and deflected by Gilbert. He then leaped over the baseline and threw the ball back into the waiting arms of Blake Johnston who was ready to take the ball back down-court. If I had been around when pterodactyls flew over the Earth I'm sure they would have resembled something close to Gilbert's graceful leap.
BMart's Heartfelt Plea
The crowd was rowdy tonight and the team stated that they appreciated the support from Lloyd Noble Center faithful. Let's try and make it two in a row against the Buffaloes on Saturday. What else do you have to do, take down the Christmas lights? Get down to the LNC and pack the house. Start the Big 12 season off with a bang.
Hayes 1-3 0-1 2, D.Brown 2-2 0-0 4, Okafor 7-13 1-5 15, Gordon 5-18 0-2 12, T.Brown 0-4 2-2 2, Armstrong 0-1 0-1 0, J.Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Tooles 0-0 2-2 2, Anderson 4-9 0-0 10, Robertson 7-10 0-0 16, Evanovich 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-61 5-13 63.
Bookout 2-7 0-0 4, Brown 2-5 1-1 5, Ere 4-10 4-5 13, White 1-2 4-4 6, Price 10-19 10-10 33, Johnston 0-3 0-0 0, Alexander 0-4 2-3 2, Gilbert 4-4 0-2 8, Szendrei 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 24-55 21-25 73.
Halftime-Oklahoma 37-24. 3-Point goals-Connecticut 6-17 (Robertson 2-3, Anderson 2-6, Gordon 2-7, T.Brown 0-1). Oklahoma 4-16 (Price 3-8, Ere 1-4, Alexander 0-4). Fouled out-Gordon, Brown. Rebounds-Connecticut 34 (Okafor 10), Oklahoma 40 (Bookout, Brown, Ere, Gilbert 5). Assists-Connecticut 11 (Robertson 4), Oklahoma 10 (Johnston, Brown 3). Total fouls-Connecticut 22, Oklahoma 20. A-11,638.
UConn can't stop Price, Sooners
Sooners Illustrated Top Stories
Video: Joe Mixon with historic outing for OUOU coach Bob Stoops talks about the huge performance running back Joe Mixon had in Sooners 66-59 win at Texas Tech.
Sooners IllustratedYesterday at 2:50 PM
Home sweet home in Lubbock for Baker MayfieldA sweeter reunion there couldn't have been for OU quarterback Baker Mayfield in his return to Lubbock.
Sooners IllustratedSaturday at 11:23 PM
Video: Bob Stoops after 66-59 win at TechOU coach Bob Stoops' opening statement following Sooners wild 66-59 victory at Texas Tech.
Sooners IllustratedSaturday at 10:43 PM
Video: Baker Mayfield on record-setting nightOU quarterback Baker Mayfield talks about his record-setting seven-touchdown performance against Texas Tech in his return to Lubbock.
Sooners IllustratedSaturday at 10:30 PM