Oklahoma passes another unique test, rolling past USC 81-70 in Tulsa

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

OU's Miles Reynolds drives the lane during the Sooners' game against Wichita State, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

TULSA — Southern Cal's two towers couldn't slow Oklahoma's march toward college basketball prominence.

The Sooners (9-1, 0-0 Big 12) will almost assuredly crack the top 25 after Saturday's 81-70 win over USC (5-5, 0-0 Pac-12) at the BOK Center in Tulsa. It's just too hard to ignore what they've done.

In OU's eighth game away from Norman this season, it pushed around USC bigs 6-foot-11 Bennie Boatwright and 6-10 Nick Rakocevic, who entered Saturday averaging 15 points per game apiece. Rakocevic had 17 points, 12 in the second half, and 15 rebounds, but Boatwright didn't get into the scorebook until late, finishing with nine points on 3 for 13 shooting. The Trojans committed 18 turnovers and shot just 23 of 66, 34.8 percent.

While USC was beaten soundly by TCU last time out, the win served as another merit badge for OU.

The Sooners have swamped sharpshooting Wofford, North Texas and Wichita State. They have bruised their way past tough defensive matchups against Florida and Dayton, and now, they've beaten a team that likes to pound it inside, even winning the rebounding battle 44-39.

This early in the season, it's hard to find a college basketball schedule with more variety, and the only slip up came against No. 16 Wisconsin in the Bahamas.

“The non-conference has prepared us for a lot of different styles, a lot of different types of lineups,” coach Lon Kruger said. “Tonight, that was the biggest frontline we've played against, and Rakocevic is really a tough guy in there. I thought our guys battled him well.”

The Sooners, known for starting strong, jumped all over the Trojans from the opening tip.

Christian James slammed in a transition dunk just three seconds in, and OU shot out to a 10-2 lead after the first five minutes. OU did the same thing to Wichita State, leading 15-6, and the Shockers never recovered.

But USC wasn't going down so easily.

The Trojans climbed back and even took their first lead, 14-12, frustrating OU with a 2-3 zone. The Sooners were not knocking down shots, hitting just one of their first five 3-pointers, and couldn't keep control of the ball, committing 10 first-half turnovers.

In the end, their defense brought the offense to life. With 2:57 left in the first half, Jamal Bieniemy picked Derryck Thorton's pocket and dished a fastbreak assist to Miles Reynolds. On OU's next possession, Reynolds buried a 3-pointer to put his team up 35-22. Making his third straight start, due to McNeace's ankle injury, the graduate transfer from Pacific had his first 20-point game at OU.

“Miles' enthusiasm and energy just rubs off,” Kruger said. “He's nonstop. That's great to see, and sometimes, you question where he's going and how fast he's going. But he's given us a big lift there.”

James had his third-straight double-double, finishing with 16 points and 15 rebounds. He scored 25 points and had 10 rebounds for his first double-double against Notre Dame and hasn't slowed down on the boards. He posted a then-career-high 13 against Wichita State last Saturday, helping to minimize the absence of McNeace.

Brady Manek shot 5 of 11 to score 15 points, and while freshman Jamal Bieniemy finished with just two points off the bench, he helped OU in other areas tallying five rebounds, two steals and becoming the first Sooner to register more than five assists in a game this season, with six.

The Sooners return to Norman to host Creighton at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Lloyd Noble Center. Led by Oak Hill Academy product, sophomore guard Ty-Shon Alexander, who is averaging 18.2 points, the Bluejays (7-3, 0-0 Big East) represent another unique challenge, but the Sooners have already proven they can handle just about anything thrown at them.

John McKelvey

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jmckelvey@normantranscript.com

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