March 16, 2003
By JAIME ARON
AP Sports Writer
DALLAS - The Oklahoma Sooners headed into the NCAA tournament the same way they went in the last two years - as Big 12 tournament champions.
Only this time they had to sweat it out.
Hollis Price led a hot start that put No. 6 Oklahoma up 22 points with 15:05 left, but the Sooners failed to score another field goal and had to come up with two big defensive stands in the final minute to beat Missouri 49-47 in Sunday's title game.
The Sooners (24-6) were more worried about a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament than winning this game after Price's 3-pointer made it 46-24. The Tigers (21-10), sapped from playing three tight games in three days, didn't seem capable of having enough energy to rally.
Amazingly, Missouri did.
Just as amazing was how Oklahoma helped: By missing 14 straight shots and turning the ball over seven times. After scoring just 18 points in the second half of the semifinal overtime win against Texas Tech, the Sooners had only 12 over the final 20 minutes against Missouri.
Arthur Johnson was the star of the Tigers' rally, scoring 21 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Jimmy McKinney was the next-leading scorer with nine points.
Seven of those came during an 11-0 run that started to make things interesting. It ended when De'Angelo Alexander made two free throws with 8:49 left, but those would be the last Oklahoma points until Ebi Ere hit a free throw with 0.3 seconds left.
Travon Bryant, whose short jumper at the buzzer knocked off No. 23 Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals, hit a 3-pointer with 1:25 left that got Missouri within 48-47.
The Sooners, who kept finding weird ways to foul up possessions, blew their next series by losing the ball out of bounds with one second on the shot clock. Price threw up a long 3-pointer, Missouri rebounded and set up a shot that could have put it ahead for the first time.
Ricky Clemons had a good look on a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 16 seconds left, but missed. Ere ended up at the free throw line with 11 seconds to go and missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Johnson grabbed the rebound.
Rickey Paulding, Missouri's leading scorer, drove for a layup and his shot went in and out. Quannas White came up with the rebound while on the ground and alertly called time out with 0.8 seconds left. Had he gotten tied up, the Tigers would've gotten the ball on the possession arrow.
Price had to be helped to the sideline during the break and he didn't return when Ere made the final foul shot. But Price was right in the middle of the postgame celebration, which included him being named MVP of the tournament.
White, who had 10 points and six assists, joined him on the all-tournament team, as did Johnson and Paulding. Texas Tech's Andre Emmett rounded out the squad.
Because this game tipped off three hours before the NCAA bracket was released, the Sooners hoped a big first half would earn them a No. 1 seed. They lived up to their challenge by hitting five straight 3-pointers just before halftime to go ahead 37-18.
It was the fewest points Missouri scored in a half this season. But the Tigers proved in rallying from 18 down against Nebraska on Thursday and in overcoming an 11-point deficit to No. 3 Kansas on Saturday, that they can't be counted out.
|The Sooners came up with two big defensive stands in the final minute to beat Missouri 49-47.
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Missouri was in the Big 12 tournament finals for the first time since 1997. The Tigers haven't won a league tournament since '93.
Oklahoma had beaten Missouri nine straight times, including in the NCAA regional finals last season, before the Tigers won by 15 last month. It was the Sooners' most lopsided loss of the season.
This one almost turned out to be Oklahoma's most heartbreaking. Almost.