Win keeps Tulsa in league race

Tulsa vaulted into a tie (with Cincinnati) Sunday with a 75-67 win over Central Florida in Orlando.

Pat Birt scored 26 points and Marquel Curtis had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds to lead Tulsa.

The Golden Hurricane are 10-5 in the American Athletic Conference, only two games back of Temple (11-3). Tulsa hosted Temple Tuesday night and will close out the regular season with a trip to Memphis Sunday and a home game against South Florida March 5.

According to some pundits, Tulsa is a bubble team that could play its way into the NCAA Tournament. Winning the AAC tournament would mean an automatic bid but an at-large bid will take some work.

The Golden Hurricane improved to 18-9 overall against UCF. Shaquille Harrison scored 14 points and James Woodard added 10 points for TU. Matt Williams scored 16 points to lead the Knights (11-14, 5-9 American).

“I thought it was a gritty performance by our guys,” Tulsa coach Frank Haith said of the UCF win. “We came in and played with great toughness. Give UCF credit: they played hard too. I’m just really proud of how we executed down the stretch, defensively and offensively.”

Tulsa shot 46 percent from the field and had just eight turnovers, with five blocks and five steals. The Hurricane held UCF to a .385 field goal percentage, and the Knights finished with a 40-35 rebound advantage. Both teams put up 36 points in the paint.

The Hurricane scored 14 of its final 19 points in the paint or at the free throw line, pulling away from a 56-54 lead to the eight-point win. TU made 17-of-28 foul shots in the game, but connected on 8-of-10 in the final 1:32 of the game.

Last Thursday, Tulsa climbed back into the race for a league title with a 70-68 home overtime win over Cincinnati.

Birt had 13 points, Rashad Smith 12 and Harrison had 11 points for the Hurricane.

Woodard had a team-high nine rebounds, Harrison added eight and Smith seven as the Hurricane out-rebounded the Bearcats 42-41.

“Obviously it was a great win for us,” said Haith. “It was just a battle, and both teams played extremely hard. The flow of this game was just unbelievable. I thought our guys and their guys had no quit.

“In a game like this you got to make plays, and down the stretch. We were good from the free throw line and that was big. The one stat that I thought was extremely important for us to win was rebounding, and we out rebounded them by one. I think that gave us a chance to win that ball game.”