PARADISE ISLAND, BAHAMAS – A season after high-scoring Trae Young captured most of the attention for Oklahoma, the Sooners are now showing off their defense and rebounding.
Oklahoma defeated Florida 65-60 in the opening game of the 2018 Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis behind a defense that held the Gators to 5-of-17 shooting from 3-point range in the second half, and shut down Florida on three consecutive possessions in the game’s final two minutes.
“Coach (Lon Kruger) talked about how (the Gators) were going to go on a run, and don’t be phased by it, just stay poised and keep playing,” said Oklahoma guard Christian James, who led the Sooners in scoring with 18 points “We got some huge stops on the defensive end. It was a great team win.”
The Sooners advanced to the semifinals and will face No. 25 Wisconsin at 12:30 p.m. CT on Thursday.
The Gators led 37-34 early in the second half before an 11-0 run gave the Sooners (4-0) a lead they never relinquished. Even though Florida (2-2) kept things close until the end, Oklahoma repeatedly came up with key plays on defense to maintain the lead.
The Gators final push occurred when they sank a pair of 3-pointers in less than a minute to close to within a single possession at 63-60 with still 2:25 to play. But Oklahoma clamped down on Florida the rest of the way, and Aaron Calixte secured the victory by making two foul shots with five seconds left.
“We had opportunities … but Oklahoma made big plays when they needed to,” Florida coach Mike White said. “We were erratic offensively all day.”
The Sooners also benefited from a 48-34 rebounding advantage, including 15-7 on the offensive end. Florida had entered the game allowing an average of only 33.3 rebounds per game.
“From the start I thought we were aggressive to the boards,” Kruger said. “We got some big rebounds (inside), and our perimeter guys rebounded pretty well, too. That was a big key in the game. Limiting them to generally one shot was huge for us.”
Dontay Bassett led Florida with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, but the rest of the team went 17-of-51 from the field (33.3 percent).
Oklahoma forward Brady Manek, who began the season with three consecutive double-doubles, was held to six points on 2-of-7 shooting, though he did grab 10 rebounds.