WACO, Texas (AP)—Blake Griffin clenched his fists, looked up and let out a loud scream. One of triumph, not pain.
Oklahoma’s freshman standout made an unexpected return from a sprained left knee with 17 points and 15 rebounds—all in 22 minutes—and led the Sooners to a 77-71 victory Saturday over No. 25 Baylor, their 27th straight over the Bears since 1977.
Baylor (16-3, 4-1 Big 12) wasn’t prepared to face the 6-foot-10 forward who was supposed to be out up to two more weeks because of his injury.
“I guess we made a mistake on that, didn’t we,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We went over personnel, but we really never focused a game plan with him being in there.”
After getting hurt early at No. 2 Kansas on Jan. 14, Griffin wasn’t expected back for up to four weeks. But he missed only one game and was playing 13 days later.
Griffin sent a text message to coach Jeff Capel early Friday morning saying he would be ready to play, but the freshman’s demeanor changed after being limited in practice for the second straight day.
“He couldn’t do it as effectively as he needed to. His body language changed,” Capel said. “I went after practice straight down the training room to see him, and he was dejected.”
Griffin didn’t feel much better during the Saturday morning shootaround, but a few minutes before the game he went to Capel and convinced him that he was OK and ready to play.
“I kind of made a decision right then, we’ll give him some minutes, but we’re not going to play him a lot,” Capel said. “He only played 22 minutes, but he was phenomenal in those 22 minutes.”
He didn’t start, but Griffin entered about 5 1/2 minutes into the game with an almost immediate impact for the Sooners (14-5, 2-2). He had two quick rebounds and a slam dunk to help cap a 10-0 run that put the Sooners ahead to stay— except for a 10-second span late in the game.
After Baylor finally broke that run, Griffin grabbed an offensive rebound and shuffled a pass through traffic to older brother Taylor Griffin for a short jumper and a free throw. As the jumper fell, Blake showed his emotion—and did so several more times in the game that he didn’t even expect to play in.
“I didn’t feel this good (Friday) or this morning,” Griffin said. “It didn’t give me any problems, but it kind of slowed me down a little bit when I was trying to get up and get some rebounds.”
Baylor, coming off a five-overtime thriller over No. 18 Texas A&M in their first game as a ranked team since 1969, overcame a 16-point second-half deficit against Oklahoma. The Bears went ahead 71-70 with 1:57 left when Henry Dugat rebounded a missed 3-pointer and drove the length of the court for a layup.
The Bears didn’t score again.
Griffin quickly answered for the Sooners with a strong inside basket. Then after a Baylor miss, Griffin drove the baseline for his ninth straight point, making it 74-71.
Coming off that 3 1/2 -hour marathon at Texas A&M on Wednesday night, the Bears understandably looked sluggish at times.
“In the beginning, I think we looked a little tired. We were one or two steps behind,” Curtis Jerrells said.
During the 10-0 run by Oklahoma in the first half, the Bears were outrebounded 9-0. Then Baylor missed 10 straight shots at one point after halftime—that letdown coming during the same stretch when Griffin got credited with a basket on a goaltending call that put the Sooners up 57-41.
“Our guys, emotionally and physically, had a longer week than we’re accustomed to,” Drew said.
Austin Johnson had 15 points for Oklahoma, while Longar Longar had 13, Ton Crocker 11 and David Godbold 10.
Godbold’s 3-pointer from the top of the key started the Sooners’ go-ahead spurt in the first half, then Baylor failed to convert on consecutive turnovers by Longar. Griffin made his slam for his only first-half points, Omar Leary turned a defensive rebound into a breakaway layup and Johnson hit a 3-pointer for a 17-11 lead.
Jerrells led Baylor with 17 points while Kevin Rogers had 13 points and 16 rebounds. Dugat and Aaron Bruce both finished with 10 points.
While Baylor had the quick turnaround from the five-OT game, Oklahoma had a week off since its win at Texas Tech without Griffin. The Bears get a much-needed break before playing at No. 12 Texas next weekend.
“We’re just going to relax, watch some film and go to practice,” Jerrells said. “That game the other night took a lot out of us, and it showed early. But we showed some good effort and we didn’t quit, and that was the important thing.”