Sweet 16, Here We Come
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Michigan bumped Blake Griffin around, knocked him to the floor and even bloodied his nose. There were no wrestling takedowns, but the Wolverines still gave it to him pretty good.
Oklahoma's bulldozer of a power forward took the hits and kept moving, sending the Sooners back into the NCAA's round of 16 for the first time in six years. He finished with 33 points and 17 rebounds in a 73-63 victory over Michigan on Saturday night.
"He's a fantastic player on a fantastic team," Michigan coach John Beilien said.
Still sore after being dumped head over heels by Morgan State's Ameer Ali, Griffin played part of the first half with a cotton swab in his nose and had to cover up a scratch on his elbow after being knocked around by the Wolverines.
Like he has all season, the 6-foot-10, 251-pound sophomore shrugged off the beating and kept charging, scoring 20 points in the second half for the second-seeded Sooners (29-5). They'll face the Syracuse-Arizona State winner in next week's South Regional finals in Memphis, Tenn.
"This was so much fun," Griffin said. "This is what we play for and it's just fun when everybody is playing well and everybody is doing their thing."
Michigan (21-14) pulled off a mild upset in the opening round by withstanding Clemson's relentless pressure and were hoping to make it two in a row against the bigger Sooners. The 10th-seeded Wolverines overcame foul trouble in the first half to keep it close and cut a 13-point lead to three with just over 6 minutes left, but just couldn't find a way to stop Griffin.
DeShawn Sims and reserve Anthony Wright had 14 points for Michigan, which seems to be well on its way back from the booster scandal that rocked the program in the 1990s. Now comfortable with Beilein's expectations in his second season as coach, the Wolverines reached the second round in their first NCAA tournament in 11 years and won more than 20 games after losing a school-record 22 last season.
"It was almost a dream because we weren't sure where we could go," said Sims, who had six rebounds. "I not sure if other people thought that we would be in this position, but we kind of felt in our minds that we worked hard and something had to pay off."
It could have been a better outcome if Michigan could have found a way to stop Griffin.
The Wolverines tried a variety of tactics, doubling him, sagging in the lane, bumping him around. None of seemed to phase Griffin.
A power forward with a linebacker's mentality, he had 13 points -- two on a tomahawk dunk over Laval Lucas-Perry -- and nine rebounds by halftime. He opened the second half with a putback and a power move through a triple team under the basketm and added two more scores by powering through double teams.
Then came The Dunk.
Building momentum near the 3-point line, Griffin launched himself skyward from the right side of the lane. He sailed over Michigan's Zack Novak and, with his elbow above the rim, threw down a vicious one-handed dunk that left the backboard shaking.
Normally stoic, Griffin stood for a few seconds after his did-he-just-do-that dunk, chest heaving, taking in the moment. Even Michigan's fans had to cheer.
"That was a heck of a play," Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. "You know, if you made that, you probably would yell or do something, too. I know I would have."
Griffin finished 14-for-20 from the floor and tied Michael Beasley's Big 12 record with his 28th double-double to send Oklahoma to its deepest NCAA run since Hollis Price led the Sooners to the East Regional final in 2003.
Though it may seem like, Oklahoma didn't get this far just because of one player.
Griffin usually gets his points and rebounds no matter what the opponent tries. A frontrunner for national player of the year, he averages nearly 22 points and was the nation's top rebounder at 14.3 per game.
But because Griffin commands so much attention, the rest of the players get plenty of good looks at the basket from the perimeter. Usually those shots go to Willie Warren and Austin Johnson and when they're hitting, the Sooners are nearly unbeatable.
This was one of those nights.
Warren, the flashy freshman, and Johnson hurt the Wolverines when they collapsed in on Griffin, combining to hit six of 13 from 3-point range. Warren had 16 points, Johnson 12 and Griffin's older brother, Taylor, hit some key shots in a gritty 38 minutes.
"The main reason I was successful was because of how our guards played and everyone else played," Griffin said. "It makes it real easy on me because they have to spread out a little bit, they can't just sink in."
Michigan shot well early and was able to hang on through the first half despite deep foul trouble that came from trying to stop Griffin.
Point guard Manny Harris played just five minutes in the half because of two fouls and three other players -- Sims, Novak and C.J. Lee -- also picked up two fouls. The Wolverines got a lift from Wright, a career 3.9-point scorer who had 12 points, and were still within 30-29 at halftime despite scoring one point over the final 4 minutes.
Michigan continued its shooting drought, going scoreless over the first 3 1/2 minutes of the second half to fall behind by 13, but rallied to cut the Sooners' lead to 58-55 with just over two minutes left.
Griffin was just too much.
He scored on a putback and hit two free throws to put the Sooners up 64-57 with 4 1/2 minutes left, then sealed the victory two minutes later with yet another power move through a double team.
"He's a great player," Lee said. "He showed it today, he's been showing it all season."