Sooners and Jayhawks showcase Big 12 on Super Bowl Sunday

Friday, February 3rd 2006, 9:39 pm
By: News On 6

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ Who says losing to Missouri is a bad thing? Look what it has done for Oklahoma and Kansas.

The No. 19 Sooners, since dropping a 71-69 squeaker to Missouri on Jan. 10, have reeled off five straight wins. Their 82-72 victory over No. 7 Texas still stands as the only conference loss for the front-running Longhorns.

Kansas, meanwhile, has won four in a row since losing an overtime 89-86 heartbreaker to the Tigers on Jan. 16. Bill Self's Jayhawks (14-6, 5-2 Big 12) have not just beaten their opponents, they've steamrolled them by an average margin of 24 points.

So it'll be two hot teams that collide in a noon tipoff on Super Bowl Sunday. The Sooners (14-4, 5-2) come in tied with Kansas and Colorado for second place in the suddenly tight Big 12 race, a half-game ahead of Texas.

Oklahoma has shot at least 50 percent or better for three straight games. The Jayhawks have not been under 50 percent in five straight.

``It's definitely a big game,'' said Kansas forward Christian Moody. ``Huge atmosphere. National TV. We're tied in the standings, so it's big for both teams.''

Kansas will have the home crowd working in its favor, with 16,300 Allen Fieldhouse fanatics showing off for the CBS cameras. Also wearing a Jayhawk uniform will be the Big 12's top freshman, 6-foot-6 Brandon Rush, who leads Kansas in scoring (14.6) and rebounding (six) and is coming off his third double-double.

If Oklahoma has an advantage, it will be inside. Muscular seniors Taj Gray, 6-9, and Kevin Bookout, 6-8, have helped the Sooners outrebound their opponents by more than 12 a game, and they could be tough for Kansas' inexperienced and inconsistent post players to handle.

``They've got some good post players we're really going to have to watch,'' said Kansas coach Bill Self. ``Post defense is going to be a big emphasis for this game. The physical play is going to be a factor. We've got to match that in order for us to be successful.''

Much will be asked of Sasha Kaun, Darnell Jackson and C.J. Giles.

``Playing a team like OU, you would think that you'd need Sasha, Darnell and C.J. to all play important minutes and play well because of the big bodies they throw at you,'' Self said. ``I think we can.''

The game will also showcase the Big 12's most recently honored players.

Oklahoma's 6-4 Terrell Everett was named the conference's player of the week after averaging 20.5 points, seven rebounds and almost seven assists in wins over Baylor and Texas. He also had three steals and shot 53.3 percent.

Kansas' freshman guard Mario Chalmers was named rookie of the week for averaging 18 points, 6.5 assists and 4.5 steals in wins over Texas A&M and Iowa State.

But hardly anyone has been hotter than Oklahoma guard Michael Neal. During the Sooners' five-game winning streak, he has averaged 16.4 points, going 17 for his last 28 from behind the 3-point arc.

After each team lost its first two conference games, hardly anyone was saying Oklahoma and Kansas would not lose again until they collided on national television on Super Bowl Sunday.

Center Darnell Jackson has a theory on why Kansas has caught fire.

``I think with losses like we've had, or even in wins that have been close, just learning from those things, learning from mistakes or things, we can just do better,'' he said.

``The confidence that everybody's gaining from each game has contributed to each next game that comes up. All the things the guys have been learning have been coming out in each consecutive game.''