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Syracuse 63, Oklahoma 47

  |   March 30, 2003 at 7:24 PM
ALBANY, N.Y., March 30 (UPI) -- Carmelo Anthony collected 20 points and 10 rebounds Sunday as the third-seeded Syracuse Orangemen used their stifling zone defense to bottle up Hollis Price and the top-seeded Oklahoma Sooners for a 63-47 victory in the East Region final of the NCAA Tournament.

Syracuse (28-5) advanced to its fourth Final Four and first since 1996, when it lost to Kentucky in the title game. The Orangemen will play in the national semifinals next Saturday at the Louisiana Superdome -- site of their 1987 title game loss to Indiana on Keith Smart's jumper in the closing seconds.

"I had a tremendous experience there for five days, 39 minutes and 56 seconds," Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said in recalling the 1987 Final Four. "I'm going to try to get that other four seconds in this time."

Syracuse's opponent in the national semifinals will be the Texas Longhorns, the only top-seeded team to reach the Final Four.

Anthony, the region's Most Outstanding Player, had turned in scoreless first halves in his last two NCAA Tournament games. But the freshman sensation came out strong Sunday, scoring 12 points in the first half while making six of nine shots.

"This is my first time making it to the Final Four. Hopefully, it's not my last," said Anthony, who is rumored to be heading to the NBA. "We've been playing and joking about going to the Final Four since our first game."

Price, the Big 12 Player of the Year, showed the lingering effects of a groin injury and also failed to score in the first half. He missed his first seven shots, finished with eight points in his final game and was part of an attack that never solved the Orangemen's 2-3 zone defense.

"We haven't faced anything like this," Price said. "They did good jobs of extending to me and Quannas (White) and Ebi (Ere). We didn't attack the zone the way we should have. We worked on it in practice, but we didn't do it in the game."

Anthony scored six points and Kueth Duany added four in a 14-1 spurt that gave Syracuse the lead for good at 30-18 with 1:40 left before halftime.

"Offensively, Carmelo got us off to a good start for a change and that was nice," Boeheim said.

Oklahoma (25-7) came out cold to start the second half and Syracuse took advantage with the first eight points. Freshman Gerry McNamara's three-pointer with 15:35 remaining opened a 38-20 advantage. The lead never dipped below double digits thereafter.

Price's three of 17 shooting was emblematic of Oklahoma's problem all game as it shot 31 percent, its second lowest shooting performance of the season. White, Price's backcourt partner, was one of eight for two points.

"We were real active today and tried to take away their shots," Duany said. "Our activity is what sparked us."

Price and White, former high school teammates in New Orleans, missed a chance to return to their hometown for a second straight Final Four. The duo combined for nine of the Sooners' season-high 19 turnovers.

"It's tough to come so far and so close," White said. "We were 40 minutes away from getting back home."

Part of Oklahoma's problem was the way it attacked the zone, using Jabahri Brown and Johnnie Gilbert to flash to the high post. Neither Brown nor Gilbert are major offensive threats and both were unable to successfully create scoring opportunities from that position.

The Sooners were five of 28 from beyond the arc and Price was two of 11.

"Their zone was a factor," Oklahoma Coach Kelvin Sampson said. "To play well against it, you have to have good guard play and our guards didn't play as well as they're capable of."

Hakim Warrick had 13 points and nine rebounds as he and Anthony helped Syracuse to a 40-28 advantage on the glass. The Orangemen also exploited the Sooners inside for a 40-24 cushion in points in the paint.

"We were active on the boards," Boeheim said. "I'd say it was the best job we've done all year."

The Orangemen are the first Big East Conference squad to reach the Final Four since Connecticut's championship team in 1999 and just the second in the last seven years. They were boosted by a partisan crowd of orange-clad fans at Pepsi Arena, just a two-hour drive drive the Syracuse campus.

"It's not always that you get to an 'Elite Eight' game you play on the road," Sampson said. "Give Syracuse credit, they took advantage of the crowd."

Duany had a pair of layups that gave Syracuse an early 10-3 lead. Oklahoma finally found the range and freshman De'Angelo Alexander's three-pointer provided its only lead at 17-16 with just under nine minutes left before halftime.

The Sooners missed their next nine shots and Syracuse embarked on its game-breaking run, sparked by Anthony.

The Orangemen shot a healthy 52 percent, becoming only the fifth team to top 50 percent against the Sooners. Syracuse overcame 24 turnovers, including eight by Warrick.

Alexander scored to pull Oklahoma within 50-39 with 6:36 remaining. With the Sooners pressing for steals, Warrick answered with a dunk and fed Anthony for a jam and a 15-point cushion with 5:13 remaining.

"Our effort was tremendous the whole game," Boeheim said. "We did a great job of sliding and adjusting to what Oklahoma was doing.

Alexander was the only Sooner in double figures and fouled out with 14 points. Brown had nine points and seven rebounds.

Ere scored seven points after breaking out of a shooting slump for 25 points in Friday's win over Butler. Freshman power forward Kevin Bookout was also a non-factor with two points and four rebounds.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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