Oklahoma’s last few wins haven’t come easily, but it’s still off to its best start in five years, thanks in large part to Blake Griffin, who doesn’t even have to be at his best to come up big for his team.
Griffin and the No. 6 Sooners host Southern California for the first time in 40 years on Thursday, looking to avoid a letdown following their most impressive win to date.
Oklahoma (6-0) moved up five spots in the rankings this week after defeating then-No. 10 Purdue 87-82 in overtime last Friday to win the NIT Season Tip-Off championship. The victory was the second over a ranked opponent this season after the Sooners defeated a Davidson team that was ranked 21st at the time.
Including that four-point win over the Wildcats, Oklahoma’s last four victories have been by an average of just 5.8 points. The Sooners opened the season with wins by 29 and 41 points over American and Mississippi Valley State, respectively.
While Oklahoma’s games have been getting more competitive, it hasn’t seemed to faze Griffin, the team’s leading scorer (25.7).
The 6-foot-10 sophomore struggled with his shot against the Boilermakers, scoring a season-low 18 points on 5-of-14 from the field, but matched a career best with 21 rebounds and hit the go-ahead free throw with just over a minute left in overtime to help the Sooners continue their best start since opening 10-0 in 2003-04.
Oklahoma did most of its damage at the free throw line, where it outscored Purdue 33-4.
“Purdue is a great team, and for us to come in and play like we did and stay together like we did, I think that shows a lot about us,” Griffin said. “At the same time we need to learn from our mistakes because did make a lot in this game. I think we’re right where we need to be right now, but we can’t settle. We need to keep improving.”
Griffin and the Sooners don’t get much of a breather in terms of competition as they face a USC (5-2) team which is coming off a 74-69 win over San Francisco on Monday. The Trojans fell out of the rankings two weeks ago after losing two of three, but they’ve responded with back-to-back wins.
USC’s win over the Dons didn’t come easy, though, as it had to rally from a 12-point deficit in the first half, using a 21-15 run in the final eight minutes to pull out the win. Dwight Lewis scored a career-high 26 points and Daniel Hackett added 18.
Lewis leads USC with 16.6 points per game. He was 9-of-16 from the field Monday and had three steals.
USC and Oklahoma have split 10 all-time meetings, with the Trojans winning 66-55 at the Galen Center last season. This is the second time the two have met as part of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series, and the first time they’ve played in Norman since 1968, when the Sooners won 48-46.