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Oklahoma 78, Xavier 65

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DALLAS (AP) _ Had Aaron McGhee stayed at Cincinnati, he'd be out of the NCAA tournament _ and Oklahoma might not be playing next weekend, either.

McGhee left the Bearcats after one season fearing he wouldn't get enough playing time. He latched on with the Sooners two years ago and his career has been on the rise ever since.

The bulky forward with the soft outside touch scored 25 points Sunday, leading Oklahoma past Xavier 78-65 and sending the Sooners to the West Regional semifinals.

OU (29-4) won its 10th straight, and 14th of 15, proving again why it felt it deserved a No. 1 seed, instead of a 2. The one they likely lost out on went to McGhee's old team, which was eliminated Sunday by UCLA.

McGhee took no satisfaction in the turnabout. His joy was strictly about getting the Sooners one step closer to a national championship, and a giant leap from the memory of their first-round wipeout last season, his first at OU.

``I just wanted to go out and have one of my best games,'' McGhee said. ``It was because this is the farthest I've advanced in the NCAA tournament.''

The Sooners are the fourth Big 12 team among the 16 playing next weekend. They'll play Arizona (24-9) in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday.

McGhee, who scored 26 points in the first round, mostly inside, stretched his game to avoid an inside battle with Xavier big man David West.

Although he has the body of a banger _ including tattoos such as a flaming basketball, an ace of spades and the phrase ``Ball till I fall'' in script, all on his shooting arm _ McGhee is just as comfortable outside.

``He gets a little frisky with his 3 sometimes,'' OU coach Kelvin Sampson said, ``but I've had to learn to live with his misses.''

McGhee started with a 3-pointer then hit three jumpers, turning two into three-point plays, all before West had his first points. He scored 11 of OU's first 18, then broke a second-half tie at 49 and put the Sooners ahead for good by scoring eight of their next 11.

``We just let him get off to too quick of a start,'' West said.

Romain Sato kept Xavier (26-6) afloat early, scoring 16 of the Musketeers' first 18 points.

West, a second-team All-American, scored only one basket the first 17 minutes, but once he found his shot, he scored 10 straight to tie the game at 40.

The Musketeers, who had won seven in a row and were 21-2 since starting 5-3, knotted it up three more times but never led.

``We missed a couple of free throws, they hit a couple of big shots and we couldn't get over the hump,'' first-year coach Thad Matta said. ``The things we feared OU doing happened.''

Sato, scoreless for 17 minutes after his hot start, finished with 28 points including a 30-footer to end his drought. West had 18 points and eight rebounds.

``We challenged Dave at halftime and he answered the call,'' Matta said.

Ebi Ere had 20 points, including baskets immediately answering the Xavier's first two ties, and seven rebounds. Hollis Price added 12 points and Quannas White scored nine.

The Sooners last reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament in 1999, when they lost to Michigan State in the regional semis.

Last year, McGhee's first after a season in junior college, ended with OU getting upset by Indiana State in the first round. He talked this week about that defeat lingering in his mind throughout the off-season.

McGhee was in a rut at the start of conference play, then snapped out of it in a big way in February, averaging 21.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in the month. His numbers dipped in the Big 12 tournament, which OU won, but he bounced back Friday with a big game against Illinois-Chicago.

``Early in the year, he was down on himself because he wasn't playing the way he's capable,'' Price said. ``For two months now, he's been great.''

McGhee's two free throws with 11:15 left to put OU up for good, then he started building the lead _ and getting the Oklahoma crowd into it _ with a short jumper in the lane over West.

A 3-pointer by White forced Xavier to call a timeout, but fans used that opportunity to start chanting ``Boomer Sooner'' and became as vocal as ever. McGhee gave them two more chances to roar by hitting a long jumper then making two of three free throws after West fouled him while shooting a 3-pointer.

``It got to a point,'' McGhee said, ``where I couldn't hear the plays that were called.''
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