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Sunday, February 5, 2006

Jayhawks ready to bruise it up

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Super Bowl Sunday isn't all about football. Not in hoops-crazed Kansas, anyhow.

At high noon today - a good 51â2 hours before kickoff in Detroit - the Kansas University men's basketball team (14-6 overall, 5-2 Big 12 Conference) will play host to Oklahoma (14-4, 5-2) in a game between two of three teams tied for second place in the Big 12.

"It's definitely a big game when it comes to the standings," KU senior forward Christian Moody said.

"It's between two teams that match up well. It will come down to defense and toughness and rebounding. The big guys will have to bring a mindset that every ball is ours when it comes to rebounding."

The Jayhawks sound as if they'll be bringing a football mentality to Allen Fieldhouse today. OU is led by bruising big men Taj Gray and Kevin Bookout, who average 15.1 and 11.8 points and 7.8 and 7.3 boards per contest.

"Coach tells us they play strong down low," KU sophomore power forward Darnell Jackson said. "Their guards are physical, too. It's like a bowling ball and pins, go down there and hit each other all day.

"I like getting hit and don't have a problem hitting back."

KU has four big bodies to throw at the Sooners - Moody, Jackson, Sasha Kaun and C.J. Giles - as well as starting 4-man Julian Wright, 6-foot-8, but a slight 218 pounds.

"I think we need them all," KU coach Bill Self said. "What we have to emphasize is they (Sooners) are plus-12 rebounding (margin). They hit you every opportunity they get."

OU is led by Gray, a 6-9, 238-pound senior from Wichita. The Big 12's preseason player of the year has made 60.8 percent of his shots and 71.7 percent of his free throws.

"When I went there on my visit, he was my host. I got to hang out with him a little bit. He's a good player, a good person," said KU freshman Brandon Rush, who made a campus visit in August to OU.

KU recruited Gray and Bookout, a 6-8, 270-pounder who has made 58.7 percent of his shots his senior season despite being hindered by a broken bone in his left wrist. The gritty Bookout has played despite shoulder and arm injuries throughout his career.

"There aren't a lot of initial fears. He just goes and plays," OU coach Kelvin Sampson said of his senior leader. "I think he is an excellent college basketball player. The three things he brings every night are brains, body and hands. I have a lot of respect for that young man."

OU point guard Terrell Everett, a 6-4 senior, averages 12.1 points and 6.3 assists. Michael Neal, a 6-3 sharpshooter who missed Oklahoma's first two league games - losses to Nebraska and Missouri - because of a groin pull, averages 11.4 points. He's made 48 of 121 threes for 39.7 percent.

"They are shooting the ball better. Neal is a big part of that," Self said. The Sooners average 68.4 points a game off 45 percent shooting. "He's as good a pure shooter as there is in our league."

OU has won five consecutive games; KU has won four straight.

"If anything, it'll be two confident teams hooking up and playing," Self said.

The loser will fall to 5-3 in the league, two games behind Texas.

"I wouldn't say out of it," said Self, disagreeing that the losing team would be out of the race. "I'd say it'd be very difficult. To put yourself in a position to play a game that counts down the stretch (KU visits UT on Feb. 25) this would be a big game for both teams."

¢No distractions: Self said he didn't mind playing on Super Bowl Sunday. "We've actually done this before. At Oral Roberts we played (and defeated) Sacramento State. We had 137 people at the game. I think there will be more people here Sunday," he said. His prediction on the bowl? "I think the Steelers will win. I don't know why."

¢OU's Sampson on KU: "This weekend in Lawrence will be a challenge. This is the time of year you really want to be playing better. This Kansas team is playing much better right now (than earlier in season). This could be the toughest game we've played so far."

¢Bragging rights: KU's Jackson said he heard from a lot of OU fans last year after the Sooners defeated KU, 71-63, in Norman, just down the road from where he grew up in Oklahoma City. "They would call me," Jackson said. "I didn't pick up the phone. I'd leave it to voice mail. They were like, 'What happened?' ... delete," Jackson added with a laugh.

¢Recruits: KU signee Sherron Collins, a 5-11 guard out of Chicago's Crane High, will be on hand for today's game. Darrell Arthur, a 6-9 senior forward from Dallas' South Oak Cliff High, who had considered attending, will not be here.

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