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Sooners relish No. 2 spot in conference

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson doesn't mind thumping his chest a bit about the fact his team has locked up the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tournament.

Picked in the preseason to finish fourth, the sixth-ranked Sooners are 22-4 overall and 11-3 in the conference heading into the final week of the regular season. Only top-ranked Kansas (14-0) has had a better year in the league.

``Our goal this year was to try to win the Big 12 championship,'' Sampson said after a 96-78 victory over Texas on Saturday night. ``We've got a chance to finish this year at 13-3, and we're second to the No. 1 team in the nation.

``And all those teams that were supposed to finish second or third or fourth, this is a tremendous accomplishment for this basketball team.''

Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma State all had virtually everyone returning from a year ago, and thus were picked ahead of the Sooners, who had to replace three starters. Led by returnees Hollis Price and Aaron McGhee, Oklahoma is now making a run at a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

The Sooners' balance was on display against Texas. Ebi Ere scored 23 points, 21 in the second half. McGhee had 20 points and 20 rebounds, his sixth double-double in the past eight games. Quannas White scored 20. Price had 14. Ere, White and Price all had five assists. As a team, the Sooners were 28-of-30 from the free throw line.

``Our recipe has always been real simple _ make your free throws, don't turn the ball over and make sure the right people are shooting the shots,'' Sampson said.

``When Aaron's scoring and Ebi's scoring and Hollis is scoring, that shows you this team potentially can be pretty good.''

The Sooners close out the regular season this week with a home game Tuesday night against Iowa State and a road game Saturday at Colorado.

No. 13 Oklahoma State continued its solid play on Saturday, beating Baylor 77-64 for its fourth straight victory. The Cowboys (22-6, 9-5) are tied with Texas Tech for third place in the Big 12 heading into their game tonight at Missouri.

Ivan McFarlin led the way for Oklahoma State on Saturday with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Victor Williams scored 18 points, Fredrik Jonzen had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Melvin Sanders scored 16.

``Oklahoma State's back playing well again,'' Baylor coach Dave Bliss said. ``I know they're not quite the same team, let's assume, because Maurice (Baker) is not at full speed. But Cheyne (Gadson) comes in and does some good things, and I'm not sure there's a more mature player in our league than Fredrik. What he does, he keeps things from ever getting too far from the house.''

Baker, recovering from a sprained ankle, played only 14 minutes Saturday and did not score. Coach Eddie Sutton said he hopes to have Baker back at full strength in time for the conference tournament.

``He'll have to work his way back,'' Sutton said. ``Until he gets back where in practice he shows us that he deserves to start, he's going to have to come off the bench.''
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