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Oklahoma Gets Reserve Boost

March 29, 2003|Rob Fernas | Times Staff Writer

ALBANY, N.Y. — Oklahoma guard Ebi Ere was the last player anyone expected to have a hot hand Friday.

Not after the senior, with injuries to both wrists, made only three of 19 shots in the Sooners' first two games in the NCAA tournament.

Recovering from that forgettable weekend, Ere turned in a memorable performance by coming off the bench to score a game-high 25 points and help Oklahoma defeat underdog Butler, 65-54, in an East Regional semifinal before 15,093 at Pepsi Arena.

Ere said he took his cue before the game from Coach Kelvin Sampson, who was looking for someone to share the offensive load with guard Hollis Price, the team's leading scorer who was nursing a strained groin.

"We were in the huddle and Coach said that someone needed to step up besides Hollis," Ere said. "I knew that Butler had a lot of guys smaller than me, so I just tried to get to the [basket] and shoot over them."

The 6-foot-5 Ere made five of his first six shots, staking Oklahoma to a nine-point halftime lead. He finished 11 of 19 from the field as the top-seeded Sooners (27-6) advanced to Sunday's regional final against third-seeded Syracuse (27-5).

Ere managed his clutch performance despite playing with a broken bone in his left wrist and a sprained right wrist. Those injuries and poor shooting cost Ere his starting spot earlier in the season.

"I told our kids that Ebi was a tremendous lesson about never giving up on yourself," Sampson said.

Butler also showed some grit. The 12th-seeded Bulldogs (27-6) fell behind by 12 points early in the second half before rallying to within three at 50-47 on a three-point basket by forward Mike Monserez with 6:15 left.

Ere responded by driving the lane for a basket and drawing a foul. He made the free throw to complete a three-point play, and Oklahoma led by at least five the rest of the way en route to its sixth consecutive victory.

Butler's comeback attempt was hindered when forward Joel Cornette was benched after picking up his fourth foul late in the game. Cornette led the Bulldogs with 21 points and eight rebounds.

Butler's senior guards, Brandon Miller and Darnell Archey, struggled, combining for 13 points on three-of-12 shooting. Archey, who had 26 points and made eight of nine three-point shots in Butler's second-round upset of Louisville, finished with six points.

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