Blake Griffin’s return to the Oklahoma lineup couldn’t come soon enough.
Looking to avoid a third straight Big 12 loss, the third-ranked Sooners will have the All-American back Saturday while trying for a fifth consecutive victory over host Texas Tech, which also returns a key figure to its bench.
Oklahoma (25-3, 11-2) was in position to possibly claim the top spot in the AP poll before their star sophomore caught an inadvertent shot to the face from the hand of Texas’ Dexter Pittman in the first half last Saturday.
Griffin, the frontrunner for national player of the year and averaging 22.0 points and 13.8 rebounds, played just 11 minutes as the Sooners fell 73-68 to the Longhorns.
Two nights later with Griffin held out due to a concussion, Oklahoma trailed by as many as 20 and lost 87-78 at home to No. 15 Kansas. The result dropped the Sooners out of the league lead. They are tied for second place, one game behind the Jayhawks.
After doing some light practicing, Griffin was cleared to play Friday—a move coach Jeff Capel did not want to rush.
“That kid’s health is more important than any win or loss that we have for the rest of the season, so for me, it’s not frustrating,” Capel said. “For our team, it shouldn’t be. Our main concern is his health.”
Though the Sooners likely could get by without Griffin versus Texas Tech (12-16, 2-11) - which lost 95-74 on Feb. 14 at Norman - their star could use the work to help get his team back on track for the final week of the regular season.
The Red Raiders, who have lost five in a row and nine of their last 10, shouldn’t be too thrilled to face Griffin after he set career highs with 40 points and 23 rebounds in the teams’ last meeting.
“That kid is good,” Texas Tech coach Pat Knight said after that contest.
Still hoping for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, Oklahoma visits No. 11 Missouri on Wednesday before finishing at home against Oklahoma State next Saturday.
“When we’re at full strength, we’re as good as anyone in the country,” Capel said. “These are just two bumps in the road for us.”
Even without a dominant inside presence, the Sooners were competitive against Kansas. Freshman guard Willie Warren had 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting as the Sooners shot 46.2 percent and got within three in the final three minutes.
Second on the team averaging 15.6 points, Warren has scored a combined 50 on 18-for-36 shooting in his last two contests.
Reserve forward Juan Pattillo had a season-high 15 for the Sooners, but will miss this contest after Capel suspended him one game for a violating a team rule this week. The junior is averaging 7.6 points and 3.6 rebounds.
As Oklahoma deals with its personnel issues, Knight returns to the Red Raiders’ bench after serving a one-game suspension for criticizing the officiating in a 79-73 home loss to Texas A&M last Saturday.
With associate head coach Chris Beard in charge, Texas Tech couldn’t hold a five-point halftime lead and fell 87-81 at No. 25 Texas on Wednesday.
Junior Nick Okorie, who had 24 points against the Sooners earlier this month, matched that total against the Longhorns, but the Red Raiders couldn’t maintain the same pace after shooting 56 percent in the first half.
Okorie is averaging 11.1 points on the season and 20.0 in his last five contests - including four as a starter.
The Red Raiders, who are looking to avoid a third straight home loss, are 0-5 against ranked opponents this season.
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