Gardner-Webb made a name for itself last November with a road upset over a nationally ranked opponent.
But less than two weeks later, the Runnin’ Bulldogs couldn’t beat Oklahoma, and with Sooners star Blake Griffin in a groove to start his sophomore season, Gardner-Webb’s chances of a road win over coach Jeff Capel’s 12th-ranked club on Saturday seem even slimmer.
Gardner-Webb’s 84-68 win over then-No. 20 Kentucky on Nov. 7, 2007, seemed stunning at the time, but it may have lost some of its luster on the heels of the Wildcats’ 18-13 season—and their 111-103 home loss to Virginia Military Institute, the Bulldogs’ new Big South rival, last Friday.
Also, just nine days after its win over Kentucky last fall, Gardner-Webb couldn’t generate much offensively against Oklahoma, shooting 27.9 percent from the field in a 69-55 loss at Madison Square Garden in the third-place game of the 2K Sports Classic.
Thanks mostly to Griffin’s choice to return to school instead of entering the NBA draft, the Sooners (3-0) are looking even better this season. Griffin has averaged 23.0 points and 19.3 rebounds in the early going, also shooting 24-of-31 (77.4 percent) from the field.
In a matchup of preseason All-Americans, the 6-foot-10 Griffin had 25 points and a career-high 21 rebounds to help Oklahoma outlast Stephen Curry’s 21st-ranked Davidson team 82-78 on Tuesday. Curry scored 44 points and the Sooners nearly coughed up a 21-point lead, but they held on to advance to next week’s semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off in New York.
“I’m really proud of our guys for digging in and finding a way,” Capel said. “People got to witness two great performances, two special performances by two special players, what Blake and what Stephen did. Fortunately for us, we had some other guys step up for us and had a little bit more help.”
Some of that help came from Griffin’s older brother Taylor, who had 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting, while freshman guard Willie Warren added 20 points even though foul trouble held him to 24 minutes. The Griffin brothers and Warren combined to shoot 20-of-29 (69.0 percent) from the field.
But according to their coach, the Sooners still have a long way to go offensively.
“I think we can get so much better,” Capel said. “In the first half, I just thought we were stagnant. I don’t think we moved, we just kind of stood around and watched. I thought we did a better job of moving in the second half.”
It would be surprising if they had much trouble against Gardner-Webb (0-2), especially down low. With starting forwards Nate Blank and Auryn MacMillan likely out again due to injuries, the Bulldogs’ tallest projected starter is the 6-foot-5 Lu Dovonou.
With the small lineup, Gardner-Webb lost 85-84 at Longwood on Tuesday, erasing a 16-point halftime deficit before a late Longwood free throw gave the Lancers the win.
The Bulldogs, who made the shift to the Big South after going 9-7 in Atlantic Sun play last season, nearly beat a power-conference team on the road in their season opener, but lost 65-62 at Virginia Tech. Junior guard Grayson Flittner had 21 points in that game, and leads Gardner-Webb with 19.5 per game.