This year, of course, Texas is without the services of All-American point guard T.J. Ford, who will be on hand when his jersey is retired during halftime ceremonies. The Sooners, meanwhile, are adjusting to life without guard Hollis Price (who was actually the 2003 Big 12 Player of the Year instead of Ford) as well as the recent loss of F Kevin Bookout. The sophomore had reconstructive surgery on his right shoulder Thursday and is out for the season. His departure leaves OU with nine available players, including four freshmen and a sophomore.
Following a four-game losing streak, the Sooners have bounced back with four straight wins. Oklahoma is doing it, in part, with three-point shooting and solid defense. Oklahoma is averaging nine three-pointers, while holding opponents to an average of 53.5 ppg and .389 from the field, during the four-game streak. Texas remains the Big 12's top scoring offense 82.9 ppg).
Although the rebound has come against Big 12 bottom feeders (Baylor, Kansas State, Nebraska), OU's dominating 75-49 home win against Iowa State was impressive enough that Texas head coach Rick Barnes all but pronounced the arch-rival cured at Friday's media availability.
"I think they are starting to peak as a basketball team," Barnes said.
Head coach Kelvin Sampson is relying heavily on a couple standout freshmen to lead his 14-4 Sooner club (4-3 in Big 12 play). Drew Lavender (who stands all of 5-7) is neck-and-neck with Texas F P.J. Tucker for league Freshman of the Year honors. Lavender ranks second on the team with 10.6 ppg and 26 treys. Freshman guard Lawrence McKenzie is averaging 15 ppg during the past three games and is 11-for-20 from beyond the arc.
Tucker's offensive numbers have cooled off considerably since Big 12 play began, but still leads his team in rebounds (6.6 rpg) and FG percentage (.582). He also ranks second in scoring (11.7 ppg) behind senior G Brandon Mouton (12.1 ppg). Meanwhile, junior C Jason Klotz has been a snarling, front court monster in the last six games, doubling his point production (8.2 ppg) and minutes played (18.3) during that stretch. Both Klotz and senior C James Thomas will be called on to neutralize senior C Jabahri Brown (6-10, 220). He averages 8.1 ppg and a team-high 5.5 rebounds.
Texas snapped an eight-game losing streak in the series by sweeping the Sooners last season. OU still holds a 42-18 lead in the series and boasts a 15-10 advantage in games played in Austin. But the game in Norman (from a Texas perspective, of course) was one for the ages. Ford had 14 of his 18 points in the second half to rally the No. 5 Horns from a 15-point deficit to a 76-71 triumph over No. 4 Oklahoma (On Senior Day, no less). It was the first time in school history that Texas basketball had been involved in a Top 5 match-up, and the win clinched the program's first-ever NCAA No. 1 seed en route to the Final Four.