Even at full strength, Oklahoma knew beating Kansas wouldn’t be easy. Playing without All-American forward Blake Griffin will make the challenge even more difficult for the Sooners.
With first place in the Big 12 on the line Monday night, third-ranked Oklahoma will be without its star sophomore as it tries to avoid a fifth straight loss to the visiting No. 15 Jayhawks.
The 6-foot-10 Griffin sustained a concussion when he caught an inadvertent shot to the face from Texas’ Dexter Pittman in the first half Saturday of the Sooners’ 73-68 loss to the Longhorns.
The front runner for national player of the year, averaging 22.0 points and 13.8 rebounds, Griffin sat out the second half and was ruled out Monday.
“The most important thing is him and his future,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “You don’t want to do anything to risk any further damage, so that’s the most important thing. We’re going to proceed with caution with this and make sure he’s OK.”
A knee injury left Griffin scoreless in just five minutes of action in Oklahoma’s 85-55 road loss to the Jayhawks in the only meeting last season.
The anticipation surrounding this matchup intensified Saturday night when Oklahoma (25-2, 11-1) had its 13-game winning streak snapped.
The result dropped the Sooners into a first-place tie with Kansas (22-5, 11-1) after the Jayhawks beat Nebraska 70-53 earlier in the day for their third straight victory.
Despite returning only two experienced players from last season’s national championship team, Kansas has won 11 of its 12 contests, losing only 62-60 at No. 17 Missouri on Feb. 9.
“I’m proud of our kids that 13 games into the conference season we can say we’re playing for first place,” said coach Bill Self of the Jayhawks, who are trying for a fifth straight regular-season Big 12 title.
While trying to beat the Jayhawks for the first time since a 71-63 home victory on Feb. 21, 2005, the Sooners have the right to be cautiously optimistic heading into this contest.
Oklahoma has won 19 straight games at home and leads the Big 12 in shooting at 48.9 percent. Even without Griffin on Saturday, the Sooners led by five with 5 minutes to play before the Longhorns rallied.
“We’re a good team, and Blake is a very good player, but he’s not the only player on this team,” Blake’s brother Taylor Griffin said.
Freshman Willie Warren had 27 points and six assists as the Sooners missed a chance at the top spot in the AP poll after current No. 1 Connecticut lost to Pittsburgh last Monday.
“I was a history major but I don’t get into history or what that could’ve been,” Capel said. “We lost, so that’s the bottom line to me.”
Warren is averaging 15.4 points and shooting 38.2 percent from 3-point range. He’ll square off against one of the conference’s other top guards in Kansas’ Sherron Collins.
Collins is averaging a team-leading 18.0 points and scored 22 for the second straight contest Saturday. Collins, though, has 17 total points in three games versus Oklahoma.
The Sooners must also contain Kansas’ 6-11 Cole Aldrich. The sophomore had 18 points and 12 rebounds against Nebraska.
Averaging 15.0 points and 10.3 rebounds, Aldrich joins Blake Griffin as the only players in the Big 12 to average a double-double. Aldrich has 61 points in his last three games.
Kansas - holding opponents to a Big 12-low 38.1 percent shooting - is 5-1 on the road in league play and has won four of its last six trips to Norman.
“We do play pretty good away from home, but we’ll have to play even better than we’ve played,” Self said. “We’ll have to have a pretty great performance.”