SAN JOSE, Calif. - In a game between teams representing the Big 12 and Pac-10 conferences, a Big Ten game broke out.
As expected, No. 2 seed Oklahoma finally pulled away to beat third-seeded Arizona, 88-67 , last night before 18,040 at the Compaq Center - getting a game-high 26 points from Hollis Price - but not before both teams exchanged enough contact to keep Bay Area fans satisfied until the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders begin training camp.
Swinging elbows, forearm shivers, hard stares and shoulder bumps were what stuck out during a game that was supposed to be a freewheeling affair with both teams averaging around 80 points.
But at the end, it was the Wild cats (24-10) who flinched, allowing runs of 11-0 and 12-2 during the second half, as the Sooners (30-4) moved into position for their first Final Four appearance since they reached the national title game in 1988.
Oklahoma, lethargic in the first half, was encouraged by coach Kelvin Sampson to increase the energy level at halftime. The team responded, seeming to retrieve every loose ball during the second half and shutting down Arizona stars Jason Gardner and Luke Walton (a combined 7-for-24 from the field for the game).
Oklahoma out-rebounded Arizona 27-19 in the second half.
"You challenge them to get more aggressive to be more of an attacking player." Sampson said. "I don't know if you can change anyone's attitude, but you can change someone's behavior. We just started playing hard, competing."
Aaron McGhee and Ebi Ere , who seemed to be mere bystanders in the first half, responded with a combined 33 points in the second half.
That allowed the Sooners to take care of business without Price, who had 22 first-half points but committed his fourth foul with 9:10 left in the game and his team clinging to a 54-51 lead.
Instead of wilting, however, Oklahoma got eight points over the next three minutes from McGhee, who finished with 21 points for the game. His follow of a Jason Detrick miss gave the Sooners a 69-57 lead with 5:03 remaining.
Gardner hit a jumper with 4:25 remaining to pull his team within 70-61, but that was as close as it got for the Wildcats, who were held to 29.4 percent shooting in the second half.
In the first half, Oklahoma shot poorly, while Arizona shot well. Whereas the Wildcats found many ways to put the ball in the hole - reserve guard Wil Bynum's base line take of Blake Johnston for a reverse layup and Walton's back-in and pull-up for a short jumper stood out - the Sooners knew only one way to score, and that was to have Price chuck it up from beyond the three-point line.
Price, Oklahoma's leading scorer, knocked down two three- pointers in the first two minutes of the game, hit two more in the middle of the half and hit two more jumpers in the final three minutes on the way to 22 first-half points.
His three-pointer at the 9:16 mark, one of six he would make in the first half, gave the Sooners a 21-17 lead.
The problem for Sampson's squad was that no one else could really shoot the ball. The essentials, McGhee and Ere, contrib uted a total of two points in the first half, and the seven players aside from Price combined to hit only five of their 21 field-goal at tempts.
For Oklahoma, this meant trouble when compared to what Arizona was able to do. The Wildcats shot 57 percent from the field while getting production from the seven players who saw significant action in the first half.
The Wildcats were able to put together scoring runs of 12-3 and 13-2 during the first half. During the second half, Arizona got seven points from Bynum and took a 29-23 lead on a free throw from Walton with 4:49 left. Arizona led by as many as nine points on the way to a 37-33 lead at the break.
Quannas White and Gardner got into it in the first half, and the intense personality of the game continued in the second, when Jabahri Brown and Channing Frye received double technicals after the two got tangled up three minutes into the second half.
As late as the 15:44 mark, Arizona led 44-40 when Gardner stole the ball from Price, and forearmed him on the way to a layup and a foul before making a free throw for a three-point play.