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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Big win for Tulsa

Big win for Tulsa
Posted by Dan Wolken

At Conference USA media day, I pulled Doug Wojcik aside and told him I couldn’t believe he scheduled a game at Colorado. It’s one of those games that’s tough to win for a number of reasons — you’re on the road, you’re playing at altitude, and you’re playing against a really good coach in Jeff Bzdelik. At the same time, it’s a game that, if you lose, reflects poorly on you and your conference because Colorado is down. Those were the kind of games C-USA was trying to move away from scheduling, where a loss hurts you RPI-wise and image-wise more than a win helps you.

Wojcik responded that he scheduled it for a couple reasons. The biggest one is that Colorado agreed to a home-and-home, so Tulsa will get a BCS conference school in its building. But he also felt that his team could get Colorado, especially playing in its first year with a new system under a new coach. Plus, Tulsa would head out to Boulder a couple days early to get used to the altitude.

As usual, Wojcik was right, and I was wrong. Tulsa shot 59 percent tonight and beat the Buffs, 81-68. Is it a great win? No. But it’s an important win, because these are the kind of games C-USA needs to gain legitimacy. Tulane is doing its part. Others haven’t during the non-conference season.

As far as Tulsa is concerned, they are now what I thought they would be in the preseason: A legitimate top-four team in this league. For whatever reason, it just didn’t work out that way early. They got stunned in the season-opener by Hampton, and it just kind of lingered. They lost at Oral Roberts in a rivalry game, played poorly at Arkansas-Little Rock, then bottomed out with an 81-55 loss to Oklahoma. Since then, however, Tulsa has won six in a row, including wins over Charlotte and now CU.

“Looking back, it was probably my fault for starting 5-of-6 away from home,” Wojcik said. “We start off at Oral Roberts — and they’re a better than they were last year — we get off to a 20-8 start, which has been our Achilles heel. From that point, through the first half at Oklahoma, we just didn’t play well. Of the 70-odd games I’ve been the coach here, we just didn’t guard the way we normally guard.”

Personally, I’m glad Wojcik has been able to turn it around. I’ve said this many times, but C-USA needs Tulsa to be one of the best programs in the league because it’s one of the few programs with the facilities, the tradition, the funding and the fan base to make it happen. A month ago, Wojcik was getting a lot of heat from Tulsa fans, which was absolutely insane. The guy inherited a mess, and he’s done a good job getting things going in the right direction.

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