Griffin show storms into Sweet 16

Jason King
Yahoo! Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Late in Saturday's game, as Oklahoma's Blake Griffin stepped to the free-throw line, a heckler began taunting the nation's best player.

"Hey Griffin!" the fan said. "Guess what! You're not Superman!"

Zack Novak may have a different opinion. He, after all, was the Michigan player who Griffin soared over for a posterizing dunk that's sure to be replayed thousands of times on YouTube, "SportsCenter" – and in Novak's nightmares.

"Honestly, I'm kind of numb to that stuff now," said Taylor Griffin, Blake's brother and teammate. "That's just what he does. It's always something big. It can't just be a normal dunk. He has to bring the house down."

The Sprint Center crowd went bananas when Griffin flexed his muscles after the slam – and things really got loud about 10 minutes later, when the final horn sounded in Oklahoma's 73-63 victory.

For the first time since 2003, Oklahoma is back in the Sweet 16, and for that it can thank Griffin, whose 33-point, 17-rebound effort against Michigan on Saturday was just more of the same for a player who has been on a different level all season.

Third-year Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel was asked whether he thought the Sooners could return to the Sweet 16 so quickly after he was hired in April 2006.

"I didn't think so in April," Capel said. "But I thought so in May, when Blake committed."

Griffin – a sophomore who is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in this summer's NBA draft – is the third straight Big 12 standout to earn first-team All-America honors. But Texas' Kevin Durant (2007) and Kansas State's Michael Beasley (2008) didn't lead their teams to the Sweet 16.

"I talked to him [before the game] about that, about having an opportunity to do something those other guys couldn't," Capel said. "He's a warrior. He's been that way all year for us."

And Griffin was last year, too.

Griffin would've easily been a top 10 pick in the NBA draft had he chosen to leave school after his freshman season. When he opted to return, he did so not just to become a better player but to relish the college experience that so many amateurs miss out on when they decide to turn pro.

"People always tell me they miss the good times they had with their college teams," the 6-foot-10, 251-pound Griffin said. "To give that away after last year would've been tough."

All season long, Capel has told Griffin to "enjoy the journey."

"When Blake decided to come back, I knew there was going to be pressure on him," Capel said. "I talked to him about enjoying the moment, enjoying every second of it, because it may not ever be like this again.

"I have some really close friends that play in the NBA. They talk about how it's never like it was in college. Blake loves the camaraderie he has with his teammates. You guys just see him on the [court], looking mad all the time. We to get to see him in [the locker room]. He's one of the biggest jokesters, one of the funniest guys on this basketball team."

And on Saturday, one of the bloodiest.

A cut on the elbow, a whack to the nose. Griffin was a mess by the time Saturday's victory over Michigan was complete. His white shorts were stained with red splotches, his skin nicked and his tailbone sore.

Michigan fans complained all afternoon about a lack of calls against Griffin, at one point chanting "Star treatment!"

Asked if he felt that referees were giving him the benefit of the doubt because of his status as the nation's best player, Griffin said: "I don't, to be honest. I feel like I get fouled just like everybody else – and refs mess up sometimes. I guess I don't feel like that, but I can understand if there are people who do."

Physical as he was against undersized and overmatched Michigan, Griffin will need to be even better in the Sweet 16 against probable opponent Syracuse. A victory in that game would likely pit Oklahoma against North Carolina and star forward Tyler Hansbrough in the Elite Eight.

Griffin, though, wasn't looking that far ahead Saturday. After last year's 78-48 second round loss to Louisville, Griffin is just glad to have the chance to continue his career for a few more weeks.

"Louisville was a great team, but we laid down a little bit," Griffin said. "This year we wanted to be the team that came out and really brought it."

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