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Experience pays off for Oklahoma in victory over Texas A&M

Oklahoma's overall quickness, ball movement and outside shooting touch were the difference-makers in Thursday night's 77-63 win over Texas A&M in the NCAA West Regional semifinals in the Honda Center.

But Aggies Coach Billy Kennedy thought experience was also a big factor.

A senior-dominated Sooners team reached the regional semifinals last season, losing to Michigan State.

Texas A&M was making its first Sweet 16 appearance and was not accustomed to this kind of playoff pressure.

"I thought you could just see their comfort level," Kennedy said of the Sooners. "We jumped out early, and we were moving the ball and making threes and guarding them pretty good. They didn't panic.

"We came out in the second half, we gambled twice, and 'bam-bam,' they scored eight points and put the game away."

Oklahoma shot 49.2% from the field (31 for 63) for the game, made 11 of 25 three-pointers (44.0%) and had 23 assists, its second-most in a game this season.

The Aggies shot 34.4% from the field (22 for 64) and made only 11 of 22 free throws in the second half.

"They're the best team we played this season," Kennedy said. "They're different. They're quick, they're experienced, they shoot the ball well … and they were able to overcome their lack of size because their guards are so good.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they win it all."

Star search

Not that Oregon forward Jordan Bell needed any extra motivation, but the former Long Beach Poly standout, who scored 13 points and blocked three shots against Duke, got some at halftime when teammate Casey Benson told him Lakers star Kobe Bryant was in attendance.

"I didn't see him, but when he told me, I turned into a fan," Bell said.

"Obviously, it's his last year, so every time I had a chance, I peeked his way to see if he was looking at me. Once I saw him I was like, I've got to score, because he's a scorer. I got to score."

Big void

Oklahoma played its second straight tournament game without 7-foot reserve center Akolda Manyang, who remained in Minnesota after the death of his 24-year-old brother, Ater Manyang.

According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Ater Manyang was found dead Friday at a facility for people being treated for substance abuse. Akolda Manyang played in the Sooners' first-round win over Cal State Bakersfield but missed wins over Virginia Commonwealth and Texas A&M.

"He's struggling," Oklahoma Coach Lon Kruger said. "It's a tough tragedy. Losing a family member like that, everyone deals with it in a different way. His teammates and coaches are in contact with him constantly. We wish we could do more, but it's a tough situation for him."

Sooners guard Buddy Hield said Manyang's absence has provided extra motivation for Oklahoma to reach the Final Four.

"We're playing for him," Hield said. "We're trying to stay alive until he can get back in this tournament and he can help us out."

Ducks still dancing

The NCAA tournament has mostly been a nightmare for the Pac-12 Conference. In what was regarded as the league's best season in years, it sent seven teams to the tournament.

Just two made it out of the first round. Only Oregon made it out of the first weekend.

But March is still salvageable. Oregon is now one win away from the Final Four, after its 82-68 victory over Duke in the regional semifinals. The Pac-12 hasn't sent a team there since UCLA in 2008.

Oregon Coach Dana Altman said the conference's tournament performance has been misleading.

"Someone always gets it this time of year," Altman said. "They're always picking on somebody for not doing well in the tournament."

He added: "I've only been in the league six years, but it was our best year top to bottom."

The Atlantic Coast Conference, meanwhile, sent six teams into the second weekend. Two teams played Thursday, including Duke. Both lost.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 25, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Experience pays off for the Sooners - WEST REGIONAL NOTES" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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