March 7, 2009
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- When the losses started coming, the rumor mill began to flow around No. 4 Oklahoma.
Maybe now that the Sooners are back on the winning track, the hot topics will once again be Blake Griffin's dominance and how far he can take his team in the NCAA tournament.
Griffin scored 33 points and pulled down 14 rebounds to set a Big 12 season record, and Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State 82-78 on Saturday to claim the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.
The Sooners had lost three of four -- including two when Griffin missed time with a concussion -- and that led to conspiracy theories of what was going wrong. Among the hot rumors: starters Willie Warren and Austin Johnson were having a spat over a girl, and that was hurting their play on the court.
Sooners coach Jeff Capel wants to put all of that to rest.
"Everyone around here had the sky falling for us," Capel said. "I kind of felt like we were either the Lakers back in 2002 or I felt like there were some people with Us magazine here with all these rumors floating around about our team. It's been really interesting."
Capel said there was no truth to the Warren-Johnson feud or any of the other stories that had been spreading.
"We have so many sources close to the program that have given out information that's false," Capel said.
Instead, he pointed out that two of Oklahoma's three losses came while Griffin was out at least part of the game. The other was a loss at No. 15 Missouri, which went undefeated at home this season.
Still, the Sooners, who matched their best conference record, are trying to return to the form that made them a contender for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They may need to win next week's Big 12 tournament to get that now.
"It's not that we beat OSU and now all our problems are solved," Griffin said. "We've still got to keep working. We've still got to keep getting better every game."
Griffin moved past Kansas' Drew Gooden for the Big 12 season record with 425 rebounds. He notched his 25th double-double and helped the Sooners (27-4, 13-3) win their fifth straight in the series.
Oklahoma State's James Anderson scored 37 points to tie the most points ever scored in the Bedlam rivalry, and he got the Cowboys (20-10, 9-7) within 77-74 in the final 2 minutes when he connected on a 3-pointer from the left wing.
Johnson then got fouled near midcourt and hit two free throws with 1:47 to play to extend Oklahoma's lead, and Warren sealed the win with a 3-pointer with 28.7 seconds left.
"We were right there. We just couldn't hit the shots when we needed them," Cowboys point guard Byron Eaton said.
Taylor Griffin, Blake's older brother, scored 15 points, while Johnson and Warren both finished with 11.
Byron Eaton added 14 points and Terrel Harris had 10 for Oklahoma State, which had a six-game winning streak snapped but still hopes to get an NCAA tournament bid.
The Cowboys, who could have earned the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye in the Big 12 tournament with a win, fell all the way to the No. 7 seed with the loss. That could set up another Bedlam rematch in the tournament's quarterfinals.
Anderson matched the Bedlam scoring record set by Oklahoma State's Leroy Combs in the 1981 game in Norman.
Oklahoma State trailed by as many as 12 points but cut the deficit to 58-54 on Keiton Page's 3-pointer with 11:48 to play. That's when Griffin, a preseason All-American, took over again. He negotiated his way around a double team for a layup at the right block and followed that with a steal for a runout dunk.
And when he wasn't doing the damage personally, Griffin was creating opportunities for his teammates. Omar Leary got open for two 3-pointers with the Cowboys focusing their defense on Griffin, and Griffin added a right-handed monster jam that gave the Sooners a 75-65 lead with 5:19 left.
Anderson had seven points in 9-2 run that proved to be Oklahoma State's last gasp.
The Cowboys, who rank fifth in the nation in 3-pointers per game, went 7-for-24 (29 percent).
"I don't want to take anything from Oklahoma -- not at all. If you look at our percentages, I wish we could have made a few baskets here and there when we had opportunities," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said.
"But give them credit. They figured out how to win."