Oklahoma gets break from Big 12 after taking over second place

Tuesday, February 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Since No. 16 Oklahoma is in second place in the Big 12, the Sooners will get a "break" from league play.

Instead of playing a Big 12 game on the second-to-last Saturday of the regular season, Oklahoma will play a made-for-TV game at No.

20 Maryland.

"This is where the television argument comes in. They asked us to play it in February rather than December," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said.

"Would I prefer to play these teams in February? Absolutely not. You run a risk of things, but I'm open to the big picture.

This will be good for us and the Big 12. These games may never be where they fit best in the schedule. But you make allowances for television where exposure for your program comes in."

The Sooners (21-5, 10-4 Big 12) beat Missouri 63-61 Monday night. Jameel Heywood's putback basket at the buzzer was the difference.

Regardless of that outcome, Missouri coach Quin Snyder believes his team has already done enough to make quite an impression on the NCAA tournament selection committee.

"I'd hesitate to say if we lose a couple down the stretch we are not in," Snyder said on the Big 12 coaches call Monday before the OU game. "That's a bad argument. I don't think it's supported by what we are doing."

The Tigers are 17-9, a record comparable to numerous other NCAA "bubble" teams nationwide. But the Tigers have continued to win even while playing four freshmen at a time since Big 12 scoring leader Kareem Rush went out with a thumb injury against Oklahoma State on Feb. 5.

"I think people thought we'd fade, but we've gotten better without Kareem. We'll be better if he comes back," said Snyder, in his second season since replacing Norm Stewart. "If they (NCAA committee members) are paying attention to how we are playing, we have made our case. It's a very compelling argument."

Snyder said Rush, who averages 21.9 points a game, could be back for tournament play. The sophomore has practiced shooting while wearing a soft cast.

In addition to the solid play of late, the Tigers also played a challenging non-conference schedule. Before Big 12 play began, they beat Rhode Island, DePaul, St. Louis and Indiana, and lost in overtime on the road to Iowa and Illinois.

"The difference in our record right now and other teams is our schedule," Snyder said. "We have played a serious schedule. The NCAA tournament selection committee tells you that comes into play.

"In (Top 25) rankings, people vote more on record. The tournament committee has a more complex set of criteria."

During the coaches call, Big 12 officials announced that Oklahoma State's game at Texas Tech will be made up Monday. The game had been postponed Jan. 30 in the aftermath of a Jan. 27 plane accident that killed 10 people, including two OSU basketball players.

There had been discussions of playing that game March 5, a day after the regular season is scheduled to end and in the same week of the Big 12 tournament.

Texas Tech coach James Dickey had favored March 5 because his team now will have to squeeze the home game in between road games at Texas A&M on Saturday and at No. 6 Iowa State on Feb. 28. But he is understanding.

"It's a hard situation for the conference when you are trying to do several different things," Dickey said. "It's hard to fit a game in, but they tried to do the best job they possibly could."

Because of the OSU-Texas Tech game next Monday, the Big 12 pushed the Cowboys' home finale against Baylor back one night to Feb. 28.