No. 4 Oklahoma beats Rice 70-58
HOUSTON (AP)—Even when the Oklahoma Sooners struggle to score, they know they can always count on their defense.
Freshman Willie Warren scored a career-high 31 points, Blake Griffin added 27 points and 11 rebounds and No. 4 Oklahoma overcame turnovers and bad shooting to beat Rice 70-58 on Monday night.
Warren went 4-for-9 from 3-point range and Griffin notched his ninth double-double of the season for the Sooners (12-0), who matched the program’s best start since 1989-90.
But this win wasn’t pretty—the Sooners went 5-for-20 from 3-point range, shot 50 percent from the free throw line (17-of-34) and matched a season high with 17 turnovers.
They have had a few offensive games like this already, and pulled out all of them by clamping down at the other end.
“That’s been what our identity is and what we’ve hung our hat on,” coach Jeff Capel said. “We’ve been in close games, we’ve been in games when we’ve been down. So we had a reference point of not to panic. We’ve done this before.”
Griffin reached 20 points for the eighth time this season, but led his team with six turnovers.
“Lack of concentration,” Griffin said about the team’s miscues. “Our focus was elsewhere. I felt like everybody, myself included, were kind of looking forward to the (Christmas) break. We can’t have that. Fortunately, we pulled it together.”
Corey Pflieger had 17 points and Lawrence Ghoram added 16 for the Owls (4-7), who have lost their last 17 games against ranked opponents.
The Sooners broke a 46-all tie with a 14-2 run, finally taking control after the Owls defended well and held their own on the boards for 32 minutes.
Both teams also dealt with a faulty clock at Autry Court that repeatedly stopped with the ball in play. The frequent whistles frustrated the Sooners and slowed the tempo to Rice’s advantage.
“This is ridiculous,” Capel groused after one of the malfunctions early in the second half.
Capel told his players before the game to only worry about themselves and he reiterated the message during the many delays.
“I didn’t know at the beginning of the game, that there were going to be clock problems like that,” Capel said. “But I thought our guys did a good job. It was frustrating—a couple of times it happened, we were on a break and it stopped us. It just kind of slows whatever momentum, for both teams. It was something that was very frustrating.”
Warren drove for a layup and Griffin scored inside to start the decisive spurt. Rice’s Bryan Beasley intercepted a pass, but Austin Johnson blocked his breakaway layup attempt, sending Rice coach Ben Braun into a tirade.
“I was so upset when that happened,” Braun said, “I don’t think I saw what happened after that.”
Warren hit two free throws with 6:20 remaining and Griffin converted a three-point play a minute later to stretch the lead to eight. The Owls went 4 minutes without a field goal, finally wearing down against the bigger, more physical Sooners.
“I actually thought we played pretty well defensively throughout,” Capel said. “The way we responded down the stretch, I’m really proud of that.”
Warren hit a 3-pointer and Griffin dunked an alley-oop pass from Johnson as the Sooners jumped to a 9-2 lead.
Pflieger hit a 3-pointer and scored nine of Rice’s first 11 points—the rest of the Owls missed 10 of their first 12 shots. But the Sooners led only 16-13 midway through the first half because of nine turnovers.
The Sooners led only 29-28 at halftime despite holding the Owls to 37 percent shooting from the field (10-for-27). Rice scored 14 points off 11 Oklahoma turnovers in the half.
The Owls double-teamed Griffin every time he touched it. The 6-foot-10 sophomore showed off his skills in one sequence early in the second half, grabbing a defensive rebound and dribbling the length of the court for a layup. He also coughed up two turnovers in the first 3 minutes after the break, helping Rice stay close.
Griffin flipped in a turnaround with 15:05 left to put the Sooners up 36-32, but Connor Frizzelle banked in a 3-pointer on Rice’s next trip. A few minutes later, Pflieger swished his third 3-pointer to give Rice a 40-38 lead.
The Sooners retook the lead, but poor shooting and more turnovers kept them from pulling away.
Griffin suffered a cut under his right eye going for a rebound and left the game briefly. He returned with 8:11 left and the score tied at 44. Ryan Wright dunked for Oklahoma before Griffin was called for goaltending on a shot by Ghoram with 7:44 left, tying the game again.
Griffin took six stitches for the cut after the game, but said he’s already getting used to teams abusing him.
“I guess you could say they were a little more physical,” Griffin said, “but not in an overpowering way. Just kind of slapping in, reaching in, grabbing, stuff like that.”