Slumping Cowboys look to turn things around

Tuesday, February 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) _ There's frustration on the part of Oklahoma State basketball coach Eddie Sutton, but also some optimism that the struggling Cowboys can cure what's been ailing them.

The 16th-ranked Cowboys (18-6, 5-5 Big 12), coming off a 58-52 loss at Fresno State, play an important home game Wednesday night against No. 4 Oklahoma (19-3, 8-2).

The Cowboys lost on Sunday to a Fresno State team that had lost four in a row. They fell behind 17-2, rallied to take a 50-48 lead, then scored only one basket in the final six minutes. They also committed 25 turnovers.

``When we went through December, I thought this team had a chance to be a little bit better than what they're playing right now,'' Sutton said.

``If we can get everyone back on track, I think this team still has a chance to do well in the postseason.''

Oklahoma State started the year 13-0, but that was with a healthy Maurice Baker. Baker, an all-conference guard last season, pulled a groin muscle that slowed him throughout the month of January. Now he's out with an ankle sprain suffered against Texas Tech last week.

Without Baker, the Cowboys were just 21-of-60 from the field against Fresno State and handled the ball poorly.

``Sometimes a team can lose a player and it doesn't make that much difference,'' Sutton said after the game Sunday. ``But with Baker, it makes a lot of difference.''

Baker helped the Cowboys give Oklahoma a scare when the teams met on Jan. 30, with Oklahoma winning 58-53. But he isn't expected to play this time around, and the Cowboys are facing an Oklahoma team that is playing well.

``Oklahoma is a really good basketball team,'' Sutton said. ``They're the best they've had in the 12 years I've been here. We'll have to play over our head, but a lot of times in this particular series I've seen teams pull upsets.''

Oklahoma is led by Hollis Price, who is averaging 17 points per game and is the Sooners' on-court leader. Ebi Ere averages 15 points per game, Aaron McGhee 14. Unlike Oklahoma State, the Sooners haven't had trouble scoring points.

Oklahoma has developed a nice balance as the season has progressed. If Price struggles or is shut down, as was the case last weekend against Texas A&M, then someone else steps forward. In the A&M game, it was McGhee, who had 21 points and 10 rebounds.

Coach Kelvin Sampson said he felt he would have a strong team this year, but ``I just didn't think this would come together as quickly as it did.''

``You always expect to get better, but this team has been a surprise,'' he said.

Despite Oklahoma State's troubles, Sampson is bracing for a tough night because the Cowboys are playing at home. He says Gallagher-Iba Arena is the toughest stop in the Big 12.

``However they're playing going into this game has little bearing on how they'll play this game,'' he said.