December 15 | 8 p.m. | BOK Center | Tulsa
SATURDAY’S GAME BASICS
Off to its third 8-1 start in the last four seasons, Oklahoma (8-1, 0-0 Big 12) looks to continue its early success as it works through a challenging non-conference slate. Next up for the Sooners is a Saturday showdown with Southern California (5-4, 0-0 Pac 12) as the two teams face off at BOK Center in Tulsa.
The Sooners and Trojans are facing off in Oklahoma’s third game in Tulsa under Lon Kruger, previously facing the University of Tulsa (2014) and Oral Roberts (2013) in road on-campus contests. Oklahoma will be making its second appearance at BOK Center, previously facing Tulsa in 2008 shortly after the building opened.
ON THE AIR
Saturday’s matchup will air on the Sooner Radio Network (107.7 FM The Franchise in Oklahoma City; KTBZ 1430 AM in Tulsa; Tune In Radio App) with Toby Rowland and Kevin Henry announcing. Will Flemming and Tim Welsh will call the action on ESPNU. Fans with proper cable verification can also stream the game on the Watch ESPN App.
Tickets start at $7 and are available at BOKCenter.com and the BOK Center box office.
• Senior guard Christian James is the reigning Big 12 Player of the Week after averaging 19.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in a pair of off-campus wins over Notre Dame and Wichita State. It is the first time in his career he has earned the weekly honor. James produced the first two double-doubles of his career by recording 25 points and 10 rebounds against Notre Dame followed by 14 points with a career-high 13 boards against Wichita State. Through nine games, James is second in the Big 12 in scoring average with 19.2 points (averaged 11.9 points last season).
• The Sooners are coming off one of their best defensive performances of the Kruger era, holding Wichita State to 48 points on 15-of-62 (.242) shooting. Oklahoma’s defensive performance was the fourth-lowest field goal percentage by an OU opponent under Kruger. OU has held its opponent to 60 or fewer points four of its last six games. The Sooners are seventh in the nation in field goal percentage defense as its opponents are shooting 36.3 percent from the field.
• Graduate guard Miles Reynolds has scored at least 14 points in three of his last four games and is averaging 14.3 points during that stretch. A prolific free throw shooter, Reynolds is shooting his foul shots at a .915 clip (43-of-47) and leads the Big 12 in free throw percentage (minimum of 40 attempts). He enters the USC game with 12 consecutive makes at the charity stripe. He has been a member of the starting lineup in the past two games while center Jamuni McNeace was held out due to an ankle injury.
Miles Reynolds has scored at least 14 points in three of the past four games.
SERIES HISTORY: SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
• OU is 7-5 all-time against the Trojans, most recently defeating USC, 85-83, last season at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles. The Sooners are 4-2 when facing the Trojans in Oklahoma (all six meetings took place in Norman).
• The Sooners are 5-0 against Pac-12 opponents during the Lon Kruger era. Oklahoma is 119-69 all-time against current members of the Pac-12.
RECAPPING OU’S WIN OVER WICHITA STATE
• Oklahoma improved to 8-1 with a 32-point victory over Wichita State at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. The Sooners used of their best defensive performances in recent memory to top the Shockers, 80-48.
• Wichita State shot 15-of-62 (.242) from the field – the fourth-lowest field goal percentage by an OU opponent during the Lon Kruger era. The Sooners limited the Shockers to 6-of-30 shooting (.200) in the second half.
• Wichita State’s 48 points are the third-fewest OU has allowed against a major-conference opponent in the Kruger era. It is also the fewest points allowed in a game since giving up 48 vs. Butler (Nov. 27, 2014).
• Oklahoma’s 32-point win was its largest margin of victory over a major-conference opponent since defeating Texas Tech, 81-36, on Jan. 28, 2015. It is also the largest margin of victory by the Sooners in a win away from Lloyd Noble Center since defeating Oral Roberts, 84-51 (also in Oklahoma City). The win was still considered a home game for Oklahoma.
• Senior guard Christian James led the Sooners with 14 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. He is just the fourth OU guard in the Big 12 era with a 13-points, 13-rebound game, joining Tony Crocker, Buddy Hield and Nolan Johnson.
• James entered the week with no career double-doubles to his name. He produced a 25-points, 10-rebound outing on Tuesday against Notre Dame followed by his double-double against the Shockers.
• Three more Sooners reached double-digit scoring – Miles Reynolds (14 points), Matt Freeman (11) and Aaron Calixte (10).
• The Sooners’ win came without starting center Jamuni McNeace, who missed the game due to an ankle injury.
• Tonight’s game against USC will be considered an Oklahoma home game for RPI/NET purposes.
• Oklahoma is off to its fourth start of 8-1 (or better) during Kruger’s eight seasons as head coach (also third in the last four seasons). A win would give OU its fourth 9-1 start under Kruger.
• Saturday’s matchup is only the 10th game of the season, but will already be Oklahoma’s eighth game away from Lloyd Noble Center. Ten of OU’s first 13 games this season are being played outside of Norman. It is the fewest amount of games OU has played in Norman through 13 games since the start of the 1975-76 season when the Sooners only played three home games in their first 14 contests.
• The Sooners have won five games on the road or on neutral sites. No other Big 12 team has more than three wins away from home. (Does not count the Oklahoma City game, which is considered a home game).
• With wins away from home over the likes of Florida, Dayton, Notre Dame and Wichita State, Oklahoma’s strength of schedule and success away from Lloyd Noble Center has caught the attention of various evaluation formulas and rankings. The Sooners are No. 17 in the NCAA’s new NET Ranking (replaces the RPI), No. 11 in ESPN’s Strength of Record and No. 3 in CBS Sports’ RPI. As of the latest round of poll voting, Oklahoma was three spots out of the AP Top 25. OU’s average opponent NET rating is the second best in college basketball and the Sooners are one of only three schools in the country to not play any “Quadrant 4” games.
• Senior guard Christian James is second in the Big 12 scoring race with 19.2 points per game. He has scored at least 18 points in all but three games this season. His 2.9 made 3-pointers per game rank third in the conference.
• Sophomore forward Brady Manek ranks third in the Big 12 in rebounding with 8.3 boards per game. Manek averaged only 5.2 rebounds last season, but put on 20 pounds over the offseason to improve his physical presence in the paint. He has put together three double-doubles this season (had none his freshman year).
• The Sooners almost always have team success on night’s that Manek is rolling. During his career, OU is 16-4 when Manek scores in double figures and 8-0 when he hit four or more 3-pointers.
• Junior forward Matt Freeman provided the Sooner bench with a deep threat last week, sinking three 3-pointers and scoring 11 points in both contests against Notre Dame and Wichita State. Freeman continues to show improvement, as the two-game stretch was just the second time in his career (and first since his freshman season) that he’s sunk multiple long balls in consecutive games.
• Freshman guard Jamal Bieniemy has picked up 14 steals in his first eight games. His 1.6 steals per game are 10th-most in the Big 12 (fourth among freshman).
• After swatting no shots in the first three games of the season, senior center Jamuni McNeace has totaled 14 blocked shots over his last four games. McNeace is ranked fifth in the Big 12 with an average of 2.1 rejections per game.
• Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger boasts a 148-92 record during his eight seasons in Norman. Kruger is two wins away from becoming just the fifth head coach to win 150 games at Oklahoma. He would join Hugh McDermott (185), Bruce Drake (200), Kelvin Sampson (279) and Billy Tubbs (333).
IN DEFENSE OF CHANGING STYLES
• For the second straight season, Oklahoma is off to an 8-1 start. Although their record matches last season’s start, the Sooners have completely shifted their style of play from 2017-18 to 2018-19. Head coach Lon Kruger has shown the flexibility to adjust his style of play to the personnel on his roster. Last season, the Sooners played a fast-tempo, high-scoring style through national rookie of the year Trae Young. As the first player to lead the country in scoring and assists, Young drove the Sooners offense to score 84.9 points per game – the fifth most of any team last season and the eighth most in program history. The Sooners’ 2017-18 tempo was the second fastest among major-conference teams with an average possession of only 14.0 seconds. Due to the speed of play and emphasis on free-flowing offense, the Sooners gave up an average of 81.7 points per game on the defensive end.
• This season, the Sooners are focusing much more on the defensive end – using their athleticism and length to force opponents deep into the shot clock and showing improvement in contesting shots. OU opponents are averaging 64.9 points per game and shooting 36.3 percent from the field (ranks second in the Big 12). The Sooners boast the third-best defensive 2-point percentage as their opponents are shooting just 38.4 percent inside the arc.
• Oklahoma’s defense has been especially disruptive late in the game. In OU’s eight wins, its opponents are shooting a combined 30.1 percent (20.5 percent from 3) in the final 15 minutes of the game.
• OU has held its opponent to 60 or fewer points in four of its last six games.
• The Sooners have held their opponents to 30 or fewer points in the first half on five occasions this season (did so zero times last season).
• OU opponents have shot under 32 percent in five of OU’s nine games this season.
ZERO HAS BEEN THE HERO
• Senior guard Christian James has been the Sooners’ go-to scorer through the early weeks of the season. James entered the season as Oklahoma’s top returning scorer (averaged 11.9 points per game in 2017-18) and has shown improvement in nearly all assetts of his game. Through eight games, James has scored at least 18 points in all but three contests – including four games of reaching 20 points.
• With an average of 19.2 points per game, James is second in the Big 12 scoring race. Seeing a Sooner on top of the conference’s scoring list is nothing new for Oklahoma, as an OU player has led the Big 12 in scoring in three of the previous four seasons (Trae Young in 2017-18; Buddy Hield in 2015-16 and 2014-15).
• While playing in Battle 4 Atlants, James averaged 19.0 points (shooting .500), 4.7 rebounds and went 11-of-23 (.478) from 3-point range to help lead OU to a 2-1 showing. His 57 total points at Battle 4 Atlantis were the second most among participating players and aided him in being named to the event’s all-tournament team.
UP NEXT: CREIGHTON
• Three years after last facing Creighton, the Sooners and Bluejays are renewing their home-and-home non-conference series. Oklahoma will host Creighton in the sixth overall meeting between the schools on Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 8 p.m. CT on ESPNU. The Sooners own a 3-2 all-time series lead and won the only previous matchup in Norman.
• The Sooners won the most recent meeting on Dec. 19, 2015 in Norman, 87-74. Oklahoma was led by 33 points by Buddy Hield, who went on to be named the national player of the year that season. Christian James, Jamuni McNeace and Rashard Odomes (all freshman at the time) combine for nine minutes and were all held scoreless.
• The Sooners are 4-2 against current BIG EAST opponents during the Lon Kruger era, and has won three of its last four games against the conference. Oklahoma is 14-15 all-time against current members of the BIG EAST.
• The Big 12 and BIG EAST Conferences recently announced the creation of a non-conference scheduling series for four seasons, beginning in 2019-20 and continuing through 2022-23. Ten games between the two leagues will be played each season during the month of December. Oklahoma’s return game to Creighton next season will be a part of the inaugural year of the arrangement. The complete slate for the first year will be announced in spring 2019.
• OU Athletics is offering $5 tickets for both games (must order by Dec. 15) as part of its 12 Days of Deals. Tickets must be purchased on SoonerSports.com/Tickets.