Setting: Ring in the New Year with a Big 12—West Coast Conference clash. It’s the Ronald McDonald House Charities Classic at Spokane Arena. Jeff Capel brings his Oklahoma Sooners (8-4) west for an inter-conference showdown with Mark Few’s No. 22 Gonzaga Bulldogs (9-3).
Plot: For both, it’s one of the last two tune ups before conference play begins after the new year. Oklahoma lost in the Elite Eight last year. The Sooners are in the process of redefining themselves after the Blake Griffin era. Gonzaga is looking for another season at the top of the West Coast Conference.
Subplots: Oklahoma has not played since an 89-74 loss to UTEP on December 21st. Gonzaga thumped Eastern Washington, 94-52, on December 28th. The Bulldogs are 1-2 in the RMHCC which began in 2007. Twice they have lost to Memphis. Gonzaga defeated Georgia, 75-67 in 2008.
Flashback: Oklahoma and Gonzaga have tangled just once in their histories – December 20, 2007. Griffin grabbed 14 boards and was one of three Sooners to score in double figures. Oklahoma overcame Jeremy Pargo's 28-point, six-assist performance to win at home 72-68.
Foreshadowing: Nineteen former Sooners have played in the NBA, including current players Taylor and Blake Griffin and Eduardo Najera. Gonzaga has graduated seven to the league. Former Bulldogs Austin Daye, Adam Morrison and Ronny Turiaf get paychecks from NBA teams.
Conflict: The battle will be won on the perimeter. The war will be won in the post.
After limping to a 3-3 start, the Sooners went to a four-guard lineup. Oklahoma promptly won their next six.
Traditionally, the Bulldogs shoot at least 40 percent from the three-point arc. Recent struggles have brought that number down. Three of Gonzaga’s losses were the result of foul trouble for their big guys.
Gonzaga’s loss to Duke will prove itself an anomaly. Cross-continental travel after finals week with leading scorer Matt Bouldin recovering from a concussion led to a 35-point embarrassment.
UTEP shot 58 percent from the field and 62 percent from behind the arc in their recent victory over the Sooners.
Oklahoma averages 78 points while Gonzaga scores 77.5 per game. The Sooners hold opponents to 71.8, while the Bulldogs keep their adversaries to 66.8.
Oklahoma shoots 47 percent from the field and 41 percent from behind the arc when it wins. Gonzaga is 48 percent from the field and a disappointing 37 from long range.
The Sooners hold opponents to 44 percent from the field (37 percent from the arc). The Zags keep rivals at 39 percent from the field (32 percent from the three point arc).
Willie Warren leads Oklahoma in scoring. Four Sooners average 10 or more points per game. The sophomore guard knows how to get to the charity stripe. He leads the Sooners with 77 attempts and shooting 83 percent from the line.
Tony Crocker has four double-doubles in Oklahoma’s last six games. Tommy Mason-Griffin leads Jeff Capel’s group with 55 assists. Six-foot, nine-inch Tiny Gallon grabs 8.9 boards and scores 11.8 per game.
Gonzaga’s offense runs through Bouldin. The senior guard hits 40 percent of his trifecta attempts, while averaging 15 points and 3.5 assists per outing.
Steven Gray averages 12.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists a game. Elias Harris chips in 13.3 points and 6.8 rebounds. Seven-foot Robert Sacre grabs 5.3 boards and scores 11.8 per game.
Resolution: Gonzaga will neutralize Oklahoma’s ability to penetrate off the dribble. The Bulldogs’ bigs will stay out of foul trouble long enough to outlast the Sooners. Watch for Bouldin to have a big game—not just scoring but feeding the post.
Mood: Hunker down hoops fans! ESPN has a marathon event for us. Starting with a Big Ten match up at noon (EST), ESPN has seven games for us today.
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