NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- With the help of a new arrival, Oklahoma
turned its biggest loss from a year ago into a possible springboard
for this season.
Junior college transfer Taj Gray had 23 points and 10 rebounds
and the 25th-ranked Sooners held off Connecticut (No. 11 ESPN/USA Today; No. 12 AP) 77-65 on
The Sooners were ranked No. 6 in the nation last season when
they lost 86-59 to then-No. 1 Connecticut. They fell into tailspin
that ended with the Sooners out of the rankings and missing the
NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade. They rejoined the
Top 25 earlier Monday for the first time since then.
Gray recorded his seventh double-double of the season to make
sure the same thing didn't happen again.
"This win this year is a big win for this group," Oklahoma
coach Kelvin Sampson said. "This team hasn't had that defining
win. That was a good team they beat."
Lawrence McKenzie scored 18 points, Kevin Bookout added 11 and
Terrell Everett and Drew Lavender each had 10 for the Sooners
(12-2), who beat the defending national champions for the third
time in four seasons.
Bookout tipped in a miss by Gray to cap a string of three
straight baskets and give the Sooners a 72-61 lead with 3:04 to
play and hold off the Huskies (9-3).
"It's an unbelievable feeling," Gray said. "We know it's a
long season, but it's a big win for us. Hopefully, we can play the
whole season like this and come up with big games and big wins like
this. We've got to keep it going."
It was Connecticut's third road game of the season. The Huskies
lost at Massachusetts on Dec. 9, and won at Georgetown on Saturday.
"It's a shame to travel two-thirds of the way across the
country and not perform the way you think your team can," Huskies
coach Jim Calhoun said.
Oklahoma led by as many as 14 points in the first half and 11
early in the second before Connecticut chipped away to get back in
The Sooners led 49-38 after Gray hit one of two free throws with
16:34 to play, but Marcus Williams drilled a 3-pointer from the top
of the key to start a 10-2 Connecticut run that put the Huskies
within a basket with 12½ minutes left.
From there, the Sooners struggled to put away Connecticut, but
were able to keep the Huskies at bay.
Charlie Villanueva grabbed an offensive rebound and slammed it
down with his right hand to get the Huskies within 61-57 with 8:13
to play, but Connecticut would get no closer.
The Sooners found ways to get inside and rebuilt their lead from
Gray scored on an offensive rebound to extend Oklahoma's lead to
68-61 and Lavender drove through an opening in the lane for a
basket on the Sooners' next trip.
Bookout made it a double-digit lead on a third-chance basket
after Gray was unable to put back Bookout's miss on a short jumper
in the lane.
"We knew we couldn't mess up," Lavender said. "We had to step
up and make big plays, and we did."
Connecticut, which leads the nation with a plus-17.6 rebound
margin, finished with a 42-39 advantage on the boards. It was the
first time Oklahoma won while getting outrebounded all season.
"The rebounding strength from that team is unbelievable,"
Kelvin Sampson said. "A lot of teams have length but don't
rebound. I think we're a good rebounding team.
"We lost the board battle by three, but that's not really
losing. We battled them on the boards, and I thought it was a big
Marcus Williams had 16 points to lead Connecticut, while
Villanueva had 13 points and 14 rebounds, and Rashad Anderson added
Oklahoma led 42-34 at halftime after Johnnie Gilbert scored on a
fastbreak layup after two Connecticut players collided at the free
throw line going for a steal.
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