How 'bout them Cowboys - and Hogs 1995 NCAA FINAL FOUR Reeves' 24 send Okla. State pastt UMass, on to Seattle

March 27, 1995|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The picture has become all too disturbing for Oklahoma State's opponents lately.

To get past the Cowboys, you must contend with Bryant "Big Country" Reeves, the 7-foot, 292-pound senior center who casts the widest shadow in college basketball, and senior guard Randy Rutherford, whose quick release and accuracy have helped him quietly pile up some of the nation's best career shooting numbers.

Then add a bunch of fine role players, and you've got a full-scale battle on your hands.

Massachusetts knew all of this coming into yesterday's East Regional championship game at the Meadowlands Arena. And by halftime, the Minutemen led by five and seemed to have Oklahoma State reeling.

But the Cowboys refused to rattle. Instead, they leaped back into contention by erasing the five-point deficit in the first two minutes of the second half. From there, they ran their half-court offense with a grinding precision, and, with Reeves and Rutherford showing the way, flattened the Minutemen, 68-54, before a sellout crowd of 19,689.

The beat goes on for the most improbable story of this year's NCAA tournament. Oklahoma State (27-9), the regional's No. 4 seed, a team that some thought would not get past fifth seed Alabama last week in Baltimore, is going to Seattle to face top-ranked UCLA in the Final Four on Saturday.

The victory completes a long circle for 59-year-old Eddie Sutton, who returned to coach at Oklahoma State -- from which he graduated in 1958 -- four years ago, after a recruiting scandal forced him out of Kentucky in 1989. It also marks Sutton's first trip to the Final Four since 1978, when he took Arkansas.

Sutton, who has 553 career victories in 25 years, leads his old school in the quest for its first national championship in 49 years. Sutton never has won a national title.

"I wasn't sure the opportunity would ever come again. It's hard for me to describe how I feel. I just know we're going to Seattle," Sutton said. "There have been so many great coaches who have never been able to go one time, because there's always an element of luck.

"I told my wife we had a better chance to get back to the Final Four than any team I've had at Oklahoma State. When we ended this regular season, the ballclub displayed a lot of maturity, and they have really focused in."

The No. 2 seed Minutemen (29-5), who had won their previous three tournament games by an average of 21 points and were bidding for their first trip to the Final Four, faced the Cowboys for the first time and went home dazed and bruised.

The day started badly for UMass, when guard Edgar Padilla was ruled out because of a foot sprain he suffered against Tulsa in the regional semifinals. It worsened when senior forward Lou Roe's hamstring injury acted up in the first half and affected him throughout the game. And the Cowboys took care of the rest, albeit after a mistake-prone, foul-filled first half left them in a 32-27 hole.

Oklahoma State responded in championship style, opening the second half with a 14-5 run. And their dynamic duo of Reeves and Rutherford, with an assist from senior forward Scott Pierce, supplied the biggest blows.

Pierce, who lost a tooth and suffered a bloody nose during a 12-point, eight-rebound performance, started the run with two baskets.

Then Rutherford, who scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half, hit the first of four second-half three-pointers to give the Cowboys a 36-34 lead. Two minutes later, Reeves hit a short turnaround jumper to give Oklahoma State a 38-37 lead. Rutherford followed with another three-pointer to make it 41-37 with 14:50 left. UMass coach John Calipari called a timeout, but the Cowboys never trailed again.

Instead, Oklahoma State -- with an interior defense that shut down Roe (nine points) and center Marcus Camby (six points), and with Reeves, who was too strong for both of them on offense -- slowly pulled away.

The turning point came with 11:39 to play, when Camby drew his fourth personal foul, leaving Roe and backup Jeff Meyer to handle Reeves down low. It was a mismatch, as Reeves hit three straight baskets over them. Those, sandwiched around a slam by Jason Skaer and a three-pointer by Rutherford, gave Oklahoma State a 58-43 lead with 6:22 left.

"I hit easy shots early, and then I'd get the ball and there were times when I might not have been working hard enough," said Reeves, who finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds. "In the second half, I got the ball in the right places."

Said Calipari: "They banged us, they bumped us, they beat us up. And they beat us to every loose ball and every rebound. That's how we win games. When you take that away from us, you take away a lot of free baskets."

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