Griffin scores 27 as No. 6 Sooners beat Nebraska
NORMAN, Okla. (AP)—Blake Griffin and No. 6 Oklahoma had yet to encounter a defense as smothering as Nebraska’s. It wasn’t until the Sooners came up with a defensive stand of their own that they were able to break free.
Griffin had 27 points and 18 rebounds for his 15th double-double, and Oklahoma slugged out a 72-61 victory over the Cornhuskers on Wednesday night to become the first team in the nation with 18 wins.
Nebraska kept it close with a solid defense that has become its hallmark under coach Doc Sadler, but went 4 minutes without scoring down the stretch as the Sooners (18-1, 4-0 Big 12) closed out their sixth straight victory.
“It’s just a different look than you see from most teams. They kind of just scatter around, and they work on that all the time so they’re good at it,” Oklahoma point guard Austin Johnson said. “That’s all they ever work on. It’s just a different look, and you’ve got to get used to it.”
Griffin found enough openings to break a Big 12 record with his eighth game of at least 20 points and 15 rebounds, surpassing the previous mark set by Kevin Durant of Texas and Michael Beasley of Kansas State. But the Sooners got themselves into trouble by settling for 3-pointers much of the night.
Nebraska (12-5, 2-2), with a defense that has yielded the second-fewest points in the nation, frustrated Oklahoma by sagging in to keep the ball out of Griffin’s hands and sending a quick double-team whenever he did get it. The Sooners fell right into the trap, settling for 3-pointers on 13 of their first 23 shots despite making only 35 percent from long range this season.
That allowed Nebraska to open a seven-point lead in the first half before Sooners coach Jeff Capel made some adjustments at halftime.
“They’re a very good defensive team. What they lack in size, they make up for with how hard they play and how physical they play,” Capel said. “When you don’t move—like we weren’t moving in the first half—it plays right into what they’re doing.”
The Sooners pulled ahead by pounding it in to Griffin, who tried to make quicker moves to get his shots off before the Huskers could crash in on him.
“It’s tough because a lot of times teams when they play a triple-team or double-team, they leave a guy open—obviously open,” said Griffin, a 6-foot-11 forward who was a preseason All-America selection. “They didn’t do that.”
Oklahoma ended up 9-for-25 from 3-point range, including a few key shots at the right times.
Omar Leary’s 3 put the Sooners ahead for the first time in the second half at 47-46 with 12:11 to play, but Nebraska fought back to tie it at 53 on Paul Velander’s 3 with 8:25 left.
Johnson followed that with a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 6:36 remaining, and Oklahoma didn’t trail again. After Toney McCray’s layup, the Huskers went 4 minutes without scoring while the Sooners extended their one-point lead to 64-55 after Tony Crocker’s three-point play off a botched shot with 1:21 remaining.
Crocker headed to the basket along the right baseline and went for a scoop shot that caught nothing but air. He was able to recover in time to catch it, and got fouled by McCray in the process.
Johnson finished with 15 points and Crocker added 12 for the Sooners, whose only loss came in a 96-88 shootout at Arkansas on Dec. 30.
Ryan Anderson scored 19 to lead the Cornhuskers, but all but two came in the first half. Steve Harley had 11 points and Sek Henry added 10. Nebraska, which had been giving up only 55.8 points per game, allowed more than 65 for the first time this season.
“Our guys fought, man,” Sadler said. “Our guys fought hard.”
Anderson was a surprising star for the Huskers. He had started Nebraska’s first 10 games but was taken out of the lineup as his production continued to drop. He hadn’t made a shot in his last two games and had reached double figures only once this season with an 11-point performance against Alabama State.
He was thrust into action early when starter Ade Dagunduro hurt his tailbone on a hard fall after going up for a rebound, and then got even more playing time after Dagunduro got into foul trouble.
Anderson hit four of his first six 3-pointers and had 17 points in the first half as the Huskers led by as many as seven before Johnson’s free throw brought Oklahoma to 38-32 at halftime.
Anderson was back on the bench at the start of the second half and never got it going again. His only points after halftime came on a jumper with 1:13 left that finally ended Oklahoma’s decisive run.
“It doesn’t always look pretty, it drives me crazy sometimes,” Capel said. “But I like being 18-1.”