Though star sophomore Blake Griffin has been racking up big numbers during Oklahoma’s unbeaten start, the margin of victory lately has been small for the sixth-ranked Sooners.
Oklahoma hopes for a more comfortable win on Sunday, when the Sooners take on in-state rival Tulsa in the first-ever college basketball game at the Bank of Oklahoma Center in Tulsa.
Griffin has been immense in the early going for Oklahoma, averaging 25.6 points to rank in the nation’s top five while comfortably leading all of Division I with 17.3 rebounds per game. He’s also shooting 68.1 percent from the floor.
The preseason All-American scored 25 points on Thursday, and the Sooners (7-0) again needed every one of them in a 73-72 home win over Southern California.
Griffin had to leave the game briefly after being struck with a cheap shot in the groin area by USC’s Leonard Washington, but he returned to help Oklahoma hold off the Trojans for its fifth straight victory by 10 or fewer points.
“I feel we’re experienced already this season in those kind of situations,” said Oklahoma forward Taylor Griffin, Blake’s older brother. “We just didn’t come to play for 35 minutes and then it started coming down at the end and we started playing like we’re capable of playing. … The biggest thing we need to work on is making sure we come out ready to play hard.”
The Sooners’ recent close calls include an 87-82 overtime win over then-No. 10 Purdue last Friday and an 82-78 win on Nov. 18 over a Davidson team that was ranked 21st at the time.
But the difference on Thursday was that the Sooners were outrebounded for the first time this season, and Blake Griffin had only six boards, ending his run of six straight double-doubles to start the season.
“I didn’t think we did a good job pursuing the ball today and I don’t think we did as good of a job as we have done blocking out,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “That is an area of concern for me because that really has not happened with us this year.”
Tulsa (4-3) could provide a good test after outrebounding its last five opponents, but the Golden Hurricane have dropped back-to-back games after a 4-1 start.
They blew a 10-point second-half lead and lost 75-63 at Ohio on Wednesday, shooting 28.1 percent (9-of-32) from 3-point range as they attempted 12 more 3s than they had in any game this season.
“If you live and die by the 3, you’re going to die,” Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik told his school’s official athletics Web site. “I think some guys lost their composure. I thought some guys didn’t establish themselves.”
Tulsa shot 2-of-18 from beyond the arc in its previous game, a 48-44 loss to Illinois last Saturday in the South Padre Invitational championship.
The Golden Hurricane are led by a pair of juniors in guard Ben Uzoh and 7-foot center Jerome Jordan, the top-scoring duo on the team that led Tulsa to a win in the inaugural College Basketball Invitational last season.
That team lost 81-55 at Oklahoma last Dec. 5, the fifth straight season that Tulsa has lost to the Sooners. The Golden Hurricane’s last victory in the series was a 78-75 road win on Dec. 28, 1996.
Tulsa has also lost 12 straight against Top 25 teams, with the last seven coming against Conference USA rival Memphis.
Sunday’s game will take place at the BOK Center, a 17,000-plus seat arena in Tulsa that opened in August and has yet to host an NCAA game.