Griffin, Crocker power Oklahoma past Syracuse
Blake Griffin saw 6-foot Jonny Flynn plant his feet near the basket, trying to draw a charge near the end of the first half. So Oklahoma's bullish power forward changed his plans.
Oh, he still drove through Flynn, flattening the point guard. The change came as Griffin switched from another thundering dunk to a simple layup - and when a blocking foul was called, he got the added bonus of a free throw.
"I was hoping it went in our favor," Griffin said.
Griffin scored 30 points and had 14 rebounds in his usual dangerous game for Oklahoma. This time, he got some help as Tony Crocker added a career-high 28 points, and the second-seeded Sooners beat Syracuse 84-71 Friday night and advanced to their first regional final since 2003.
Oklahoma (30-5) started pulling away midway through the first half and moved on to play either top-seeded North Carolina or Gonzaga in the South Regional final Sunday looking for their first Final Four since 2002. The last time the Sooners made it this far, Syracuse beat them en route to their own national championship.
And all that talk of an All-Big East Final Four?
That's over with now. Syracuse was the league's lone representative left in the South Region. The Orange (28-10) finally ran out of the magic that helped them pull off such wins as their six-overtime marathon over Connecticut in the Big East tournament.
"Oklahoma's a very, very good basketball team," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "And when Griffin's been healthy, they've been very difficult to beat."
Griffin once again put on a show despite being double-teamed. He dunked so hard in the second half that he came away from one shaking his left hand and banged his noggin against the bottom of the backboard while driving along the baseline for a rim-rocking dunk.
"That's the first time in a game," Griffin said of scraping against the backboard, a remark that drew a laugh from Crocker. "It took me by surprise. I got too close."
Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel had told Griffin he needed to wrap his arms around his teammates and help carry them through this NCAA tournament. He's not worried about Griffin, not after watching the 6-foot-10, 251-pound sophomore dive over a table for a ball coming off a concussion.
"He's going to play. He's going to be himself, and he's going to attack. ... That's who he is. He's a really, really physical player and with that, there's going to be some ... physical exchanges. I'm not that concerned about it anymore. We've seen it for two years," Capel said.
Flynn thought he had gotten his feet set to draw the charge with Griffin already having one foul. But Flynn appeared to flinch at the sight of Griffin barreling in on him, movement that may have betrayed him.
"A guy like that running you over is definitely going to hurt you, and it hurt a bit and my back has a bad bruise," Flynn said. "But I just saw an opportunity there for a game-changing play. ... The official thought otherwise."
Flynn writhed around for a couple of minutes before getting up. The Orange never did, not with Griffin and Crocker leading the way.
Crocker, the junior guard who went scoreless in the Sooners' second-round win over Michigan, who helped shred Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone. He shot right over the zone, hitting six of his first eight 3s. Crocker had spent extra time working on his shot coming into this game.
Flynn led Syracuse with 22 points despite playing the second half with a bruised back after that crunching collision with Griffin. Andy Rautins added 12.
Oklahoma denied Boeheim his career 800th victory in a game that never really was close as the Orange never found their outside shot or the scoring balance that had five players averaging in double figures. Eric Devendorf and Rautins went a combined 1-of-13 in the first half.
"We have to make shots to win, and when we were 0-for-10, we were in a lot of trouble," Boeheim said of the Orange's totals from 3-point range in the first half.
The Sooners grabbed the lead from the start off a 3-pointer from Crocker from the top of the key over Devendorf's outstretched hand, and the Sooners' rout was on. They scored eight of the first 10 points, and Griffin had as many points by himself (nine) as the Orange through the first 10 minutes.
Crocker said that first shot meant a lot after his struggles.
"That zone gave us a lot of spots to have open shots, so we just tried to take advantage of that," he said.
Griffin was happy to see the production.
"It makes our job so much easier when he's playing like he did today. They can't sink down in the zone. They had to respect him all game long because he was hitting shots all game long. It takes our team to another level when he plays like he did today," Griffin said.
Flynn tried to rally the Orange. He scored six straight points starting with a running one-hander, then a drive and finally a jumper to pull them within 18-17 with 7:15 to go.
That was as close as they would get as Oklahoma led 39-26 at halftime and put together a 20-2 spurt spanning the halves.