December 21, 2015

Oklahoma's trip to Hawaii earlier this month was a most enjoyable experience, though that can be said about every game it's played this season.

The No. 3 Sooners put their unblemished record on the line at the Diamond Head Classic, where they'll take on Washington State in Tuesday night's opening round.

Oklahoma's previous visit to Honolulu resulted in the most impressive of its eight consecutive wins to start the season, a 78-55 rout of then-No. 9 Villanova in the Pearl Harbor Classic on Dec. 7. The Sooners dominated on both ends, hitting 14 of 26 from 3-point range and limiting the Wildcats to a 4-of-32 performance from beyond the arc.

That's usually been the blueprint behind Oklahoma's best start since the Blake Griffin-led 2008-09 squad won its first 12 games. The Sooners rank second nationally with a 47.7 percent success rate on 3-pointers and are second as well in field goal percentage defense (34.3).

Oklahoma's last seven wins have come by double digits, though it was tested by Creighton before pulling away for an 87-74 decision Saturday. The Sooners led 71-68 with under five minutes left before Buddy Hield scored nine of his career-high 33 points in succession.

"It was a little stressful, but it was good for us," center Ryan Spangler said. "We've got to figure out ways to win games like that. We're going to be in a lot of them this year coming up."

The Sooners will be heavily favored in a tournament field that includes no other ranked teams, though Northern Iowa owns victories over two current top 11 programs in North Carolina and Iowa State. They'll face the Panthers or tournament host Hawaii on Wednesday.

Washington State (7-2) has been sound defensively as well during its best start since going 8-1 in 2010-11, a season that included a runner-up finish in the Diamond Head Classic. The Cougars are tied for second in Division I with 7.0 blocks per game and have held opponents to 40.6 percent shooting.

The Cougars have shot 53 percent or better in four straight and enter the event off back-to-back wins, though they struggled at times in Friday's 78-73 overtime triumph over Texas State in their first outing back from exams.

"I don't think we were as sharp as we had been in earlier games, and a lot of that has to do with six new guys never going through the academics at this level and what that means," coach Ernie Kent said. "I've always said with freshmen and with JC players, that first semester is the toughest."

Opponents have shot 26.5 percent from 3 during the Cougars' win streak, but they'll be challenged with Oklahoma's trio of Hield (23.5 points per game), Isaiah Cousins (13.8) and Jordan Woodard (13.3) all shooting 50 percent or better.

The Sooners' defense draws a tough matchup in center Josh Hawkinson, who's shooting 61.5 percent and notched a fourth straight double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds against Texas State.

Washington State seeks its first win over a ranked team since a 73-61 victory over No. 23 UCLA on March 6, 2013. The Cougars have dropped eight straight and 16 of 17 to Top 25 teams, most recently 69-60 to then-No. 13 Gonzaga on Dec. 2.

Oklahoma won the lone previous meeting between the schools, 74-59 in the 76 Classic in Anaheim, California in November 2011.

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