SAN JOSE, Calif., March 23 (UPI) -- Aaron McGhee turned back the last Missouri challenge of the day with a clutch three-point shot Saturday, helping the Oklahoma Sooners muscle their way into the Final Four with an 81-75 victory over the Tigers.
Oklahoma, with its 12th consecutive, became the first Big 12 team to reach the NCAA Tournament's national semifinals since the league was created eight years ago. It marks the first Final Four trip for the Sooners since 1988.
On that occasion, the Sooners were defeated in the national title game by Kansas and if Oklahoma makes it to the championship contest this year, the Jayhawks could again be waiting. Kansas will meet Oregon Sunday in the Midwest Region final Sunday.
To get to the championship game, however, Oklahoma must deal with the Indiana Hoosiers in the semifinals after they rode a remarkable three-point shooting performance to an 81-69 win over Kent State.
The 12th-seeded Tigers battled Oklahoma all day in exactly the kind of physical game that had been expected.
Missouri had the lead late in the first half before Oklahoma scored the final seven points of the period to seemingly take control.
But the Tigers stayed close throughout the second half, only to see the Sooners put on a spurt each time Missouri drew near. Finally, with 3:14 to play, Missouri closed its deficit to 68-64 on two free throws by Justin Gage.
But McGhee, a powerhouse, 6-8 senior who spent much of the first half on the bench in foul trouble, hit two free throws with 2:53 to go to increase the Sooners' lead to six.
Missouri's Kareem Rush cut that advantage in half with a three-pointer that came with 2:40 remaining only to see McGhee answer with a vital three-pointer of his own with 2:14 left. Rush then tried yet another three-point shot, but that one missed and when Oklahoma secured the rebound, it all but secured the game.
A series of free throws by McGhee and Quannas White allowed the Sooners to expand their lead to 10 points and it took three-point shots by Rickey Paulding and Wesley Stokes to make the final score more respectable.
"It was tough, especially for me having to sit and watch the game," McGhee said. "When I got back in the game, I just wanted to help my team win the best way possible."
"These kids are great leaders," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said. "They embody what this program is about."
Oklahoma will take a 31-4 record into the Final Four, having defeated its conference rival for the second time this year. Sampson hugged counterpart Quin Snyder after the game as the Oklahoma players celebrated the occasion by collapsing on one another in a big pile.
Paulding paced the Tigers with 22 points and Rush had 17, but the Tigers missed 14 of 34 free-throw attempts to hurt their cause.
"We missed a few foul shots, we missed a few jump shots," Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. "I thought our effort was superb. There is no shame in what we did today."
Hollis Price paced the Sooners with 18 points and Ebi Ere had 17. McGhee finished with 15.
Missouri missed a big chance late in the first half when McGhee and teammate Jason Detrick were forced to the bench with three fouls each.
Missouri had a 31-31 lead with 2:44 to go in the half, but was outscored the rest of the way, 10-1. Price hit a three-pointer during that surge and White scored the final four points in the half.
White made two free throws with 45 seconds remaining and then hit a three-pointer at the buzzer sounded to give Oklahoma a 41-33 lead.
Missouri's Clarence Gilbert, who once made 12 three-pointers in a game, had a disappointing end to his career. He made one of 16 shots, including one of nine from beyond the arc.
"It was painful to watch that happen to Clarence," Snyder added. "You just felt for him because you know what he is capable of doing. He wanted it so bad."
The physical game featured 53 fouls, including 27 by Missouri.