Oakland offers unique test in first NCAA game

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TULSA, Okla. — Usually, calling someone a dog is an insult.

But when referring to Texas forward Tristan Thompson, Oakland head coach Greg Kampe meant it as praise.

“I have a dog, and every time the front doorbell rings, my dog runs to the front door,” he said. “That’s how Tristan Thompson is on the offensive glass. Every time a shot goes up, he’s going for it.”

For what it’s worth, Thompson was appreciative — albeit surprised — when he heard the story retold to him.

“I guess it’s another compliment,” the Longhorn freshman said. “You’ve got to be aggressive on the glass.”

In Friday’s second-round NCAA tournament contest between No. 13 seed Oakland (25-9) and fourth-seeded Texas (27-7), Thompson matches up against the Grizzlies’ Keith Benson, a 6-foot-11 senior who many project as a first-round pick in the 2011 NBA draft.

Benson is also the Summit League’s two-time MVP and the conference’s all-time leader in blocked shots.

Benson is a defensive big man, averaging 3.6 blocks per game this season. He also averages 10.1 rebounds per game. Thompson averages 7.8 a game, 3.8 on offense.

“Keith Benson, in 27 years, is the best basketball player I’ve ever coached,” Kampe said. “At our level in our league you would see kids just drive into the lane and stop because they knew the ball was coming back at them.”

Thompson compared the Oakland center to Connecticut’s Alex Oriakhi, whom the Longhorns faced in January. Oriakhi grabbed a career-high 21 rebounds in that game, as UConn won 82-81 in overtime.

“It will be a good matchup for us,” Thompson said. “We have to contain him from blocking shots and go up strong.”

Thompson is no slouch either. He’s upped his scoring production over the last seven games and averaged 11.3 points and 8.6 rebounds through three games in last week’s Big 12 tournament en route to all-tournament honors.

“He’s athletic and long, and he poses problems,” Kampe said about Thompson. “He offensive rebounds, and he’s a machine to that.”

With a seemingly close matchup down low, the difference might from from the periphery — literally. The Oakland and Texas perimeter shooters will be looking to capitalize with all of the attention inside.

“They can really shoot the ball,” said Texas swingman Jordan Hamilton of Oakland.

Hamilton averages 18.6 points per game and has hit a team-best 87 from behind the arc. Oakland’s point guard Reggie Hamilton scores 17.4 an outing and 3-point specialist Travis Bader is shooting 48 from long range.

“When I get the ball I try to throw it out to Travis Bader or Reggie Hamilton and get open shots,” Benson said. “It kind of plays into our offense and helps everybody get into a flow.”

And that fits either coach, both of who intend to run their teams up and down the floor and push the pace.

“We’ve always tried to get down the floor as quick as we can,” said Texas coach Rick Barnes. “We’re comfortable playing any style.”

That might fit even better into the game plan for Oakland, which averaged 94.5 points in its 25 wins this season and 73.3 points in nine losses. The Summit League champs have experience against big teams, having played Purdue, Illinois and Michigan State all before the New Year. The team’s only win against a Top 25 team was at then-No. 7 Tennessee on Dec. 14, although the Volunteers struggled down the stretch.

“I think if it’s a fast-paced game, I think we’ll have a chance,” Kampe said.

This isn’t the first time Texas has seen the Grizzlies. When preparing to face Michigan State in December, Barnes had his team break down tape of a game between MSU and Oakland.

“Oakland did a great job of driving the ball,” Barnes said. “Greg Kampe’s a great coach. He’s been around a long time and done a great job.”

Barnes met Kampe for the first time in 2007. Texas had just played Michigan State at the Palace, home of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, when the Longhorns coach watched Oakland defeat Oregon.

The two talked afterwards and, in 2010, Kampe asked for a game against UT.

Barnes declined the offer. Now he has no choice. Texas and Oakland tip off in the first game of the day at approximately 11:15 a.m. local time.