Oklahoma’s offense has been up and down to start the season, but there’s been one area of consistency.

Their defense.

Through seven games, the Sooners (6-1) rank 15th nationally in scoring defense and second in the Big 12, allowing just 56.9 points per game. They’ve yet to surrender more than 64 points in a game.

That defense was on display last weekend, when they won the ESPN Events Invitational in Orlando, Florida. The Sooners surrendered just 56 points to Nebraska, 64 to Seton Hall and 55 to Ole Miss in the championship game.

That marked a season low in points for the Rebels and the only game they’ve failed to score 70 points or more. The Rebels also didn’t score in the last four minutes, and the Sooners capitalized with a 7-0 run to win the game.

A key factor has been defending the 3-point line. Opponents are shooting just 25.6 percent from the 3-point line against the Sooners, which ranks 18th nationally.

“I think we’re doing a good job contesting shots,” OU coach Porter Moser said Thursday. “I think we’re making sure we have high hands, contesting shots. We’re trying to make them make tough 2s and tough 3s. I think we’ve defended the three fairly well… I think we’ve been really trying to make other teams take hard shots by high hands and by being a positional defense.

“I personally think we have such a huge way to go defensively. That’s encouraging. What I like has been the mentality of closing out games defensively. It’s so easy to let your offense dictate your defense down the stretch. You miss a big shot, you get a key turnover… I think we’ve been closing out games with a great defensive mentality.”

Another key factor has been Tanner Groves’ improvement as a rim protector. After finishing with just 14 blocks last season, the veteran big man has already rejected 10 shots so far this season. That ranks fourth among all Big 12 players.

“He’s got the mentality to come protect the rim,” Moser said. “It’s two-fold for him. Mentally and physically he’s grown in that department. He’s not afraid to come over and protect the rim and he physically is strong enough… Just a phenomenal improvement in the offseason. and Bryce Daub, our strength coach, has done a great job with him and all the guys. But he is physically stronger and more mobile. and then mentally he’s got more of an edge to come block a shot.”

The Sooners’ defense will be tested in the coming weeks with non-conference games against Villanova, Arkansas and Florida. But it’s an encouraging early-season sign for the team.

Sooners take on Villanova

The team will be looking to build on their tournament victory when it travels to take on Villanova at 11:30 a.m. Saturday for the Big 12-Big East battle.

It’s been a tough start to the season for the Wildcats, who’ve lost five of their seven games. Three of those losses have come by four points or fewer, which includes an 81-79 loss to Iowa State and a 73-71 loss to Michigan State.

Moser isn’t overlooking the Wildcats, who’ve been one of the more successful programs in recent years.

“I’m expecting a championship program, effort, culture and players,” Moser said. “I know how good they are. I know how good they’re wired. They’ve had a couple of tough, close losses… So when we look at Villanova, we don’t look at their record. We look at who they are. They’re a blue blood, championship culture that has championship players who have been in the Final Four. We have just a tremendous amount of respect for them.”

The Wildcats are led by guards Eric Dixon and Caleb Daniels, who each average over 17 points per game.

The game will be broadcast on CBS.

Bijan Cortes trending up

The sophomore guard wasn’t a big part of the rotation to start the season.

Cortes played just 22 minutes in the first four games combined, scoring zero points and dishing two assists. But he came alive in Orlando, posting per-game averages of 6.3 points, 1.6 assists and 1.6 rebounds off the bench.

He played arguably the best game of his career in the championship game against Ole Miss, posting 10 points, three rebounds, two assists and four steals in a season-high 23 minutes.

It didn’t help that he suffered a concussion right before the season began, but Cortes is beginning to make an impact.

“He’s back full strength. He’s coming. and he comes in with a great mindset. I think he’s really, really tried on the defensive end, which we’ve asked him to do. His biggest skill, he can really pass the ball. and he’s bigger. He’s 6-foot-3. He can see things. When he’s defending, and then you add in his offense, he’s in a great place.”

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580

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