Star forward Blake Griffin has carried Oklahoma to its best start in nearly two decades. Remaining unbeaten could be easier with Tony Crocker apparently emerging from his early-season slump.
Crocker looks to build on his best game of the season as the fourth-ranked Sooners try to improve to 12-0 for the first time since 1989-90 with a road game against Rice on Monday night.
Griffin, a preseason All-America selection, has dominated the interior during Oklahoma’s strong start, averaging 22.6 points and shooting 67.2 percent from the field - both tops in the Big 12 - while leading the nation with 14.4 rebounds per game.
His early success has made up for Crocker’s early struggles. After ranking third on the team with 11.3 points per game last season, the junior guard reached double figures once in his first seven games of 2008-09, shooting just 30.2 percent in that stretch.
Crocker, though, has scored at least 10 points in each of his last four contests, including a career-high 26 in the Sooners’ 81-70 win over Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday night.
“It felt good out there,” Crocker said. “It always feels good when the shots are falling.”
Crocker, who’s previous season high was 12 points, went 8-for-13 from the field, including 5-for-6 from 3-point range as Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel defeated the team that gave him his coaching start.
“Even when he was struggling, I still believed in him so much because I’ve seen him do so many good things. I knew it was a matter of time,” Capel said. “Hopefully tonight’s game was the breakout for him to get him going.”
Crocker’s big game took some of the pressure off Griffin, who had 18 points and seven rebounds while taking only eight shots from the field. Capel thinks his team will be particularly dangerous once he gets his top players playing to their potential at the same time.
“I’ve said all along I think we have good players. They may not have been playing well early in season, and Blake’s numbers were out of this world, so those guys weren’t maybe looked at as much,” Capel said. “But I think we have other good players, and hopefully at some point we can get everyone clicking on same page. I think that’s when we can become a better basketball team.”
The Sooners are 11-0 for the first time since 1989-90, when they opened 12-0 en route to a 27-5 finish.
Oklahoma will put its undefeated start on the line against a Rice team that’s already surpassed its win total from last season. The Owls (4-6) won back-to-back games Dec. 6 and 17 to top their victory total from 2007-08, when they finished 3-27.
They couldn’t extend the streak Saturday, however, falling 80-64 at Duquesne. Rice shot 41.2 percent from the field, while allowing Duquesne to connect on 53.2 percent of its shots.
Rice has lost seven of nine all-time meetings with Oklahoma, including a 61-49 defeat last season in Norman. Griffin had 18 points and nine rebounds while shooting 6-for-8 from the field as the Sooners held the Owls to 29.1 percent shooting.
Crocker had four points on 2-for-7 shooting, and added six assists.