Junior Leevan Sands also came through with a championship, scoring 10 points for the Tigers by winning the long jump with a leap of 26 feet, five inches, edging Tony Allmond of South Carolina by 1 1/4 inches. Sands has a chance to win another title on Saturday as one of the favorites in the triple jump.
I did what I came out here to do," Sands said. "I am excited that I won, but I still have my best event, the triple jump."
The Tigers also picked up five big points from freshman Marc Burns on Friday night, who did better than forecast with a fourth place finish in the 100 meters late Friday night. That moved the Tigers past Florida into the team lead after three days of competition.
Griffiths won his first NCAA 400 meters title by running an impressive time of 48.55 to edge Rickey Harris of Florida and Auburn's Fred Sharpe. Griffiths scored 10 points for the Tigers with the victory. Harris scored eight for the Gators with a time of 48.83 and Sharpe's time of 49.23 scored six points for Auburn.
"I have felt really good all week," Griffiths said. "I made it my goal to win all three races and with this win I accomplished my goal. I have been waiting for this for so long and there is absolutely nothing like being a champion."
Arkansas looks to be the team to beat going into the final day of competition on Saturday because of the Razorbacks' scoring potential in the distance races. Auburn's chances of winning the title took a major hit on Thursday when two-time discus champion Gabor Mate failed to qualify for Saturday's discus final. Auburn will need strong finishes from Sanjay Ayer in the 400 meters, the 4x400 relay team and triple jumper Sands to have a chance to hold onto its lead.
Ayer was impressive in qualifying for the 400 meter finals. The senior ran a 45.16 which was the second fastest time behind Mitch Potter of Minnesota, who ran a 44.94.
Mardy Scales, a junior from Middle Tennessee State and the fastest qualifier, won the 100 meters in 10.25. Pierre Brown, a senior from Mississippi State, was second in 10.34 followed by Michael Frater, a junior from TCU who ran 10.36. Auburn's Burns was just behind Frater with a clocking of 10.39.
Burns missed the entire indoor season with an injury and got a late start running outdoors waiting on an all-clear from the team doctors.
Auburn's 37 points assures the Tigers a strong finish at the nationals no matter what happens on Saturday. Arkansas is second with 30 points while three more SEC teams are behind the Razorbacks. Florida has 23 points for third, LSU and Tennesse are tied for fourth with 21. Nebraska is sixth with 20 points while Georgia is seventh with 19 points.
"Auburn showed up here," Coach Ralph Spry said late Friday night (Saturday morning Central time). "This team stayed in it and kept fighting. They rebounded very well from Thursday's mishap and I just can't say how proud I am of this team. If we come out like we did Friday, we will definitely be in contention to win the title. We just need to stay focused because there are a lot of events left."
Elva Goulbourne is an NCAA champ again.
For the women's team, senior Elva Goulbourne defended her NCAA long jump championship with a leap of 22 feet, 2 1/4 inches. Viktoriya Rybalko, a senior from Maine, was second with a jump of 21 feet, five 1/4 inches.Ineta Radevica, a junior from Nebraska, was third at 21 feet, 3 1/2 inches.
Goulbourne said, "It feels great to win again coming in as the defending champion. Everything has worked out the way it was supposed to for me. I give God thanks and I give my coaches thanks. Everything is just going my way right now."
In other news:
*The women's team got on the scoreboard on Friday as the 4x100 relay team scored five points with its fourth place finish. Timicka Clarke opened with a strong lead leg for the Tigers. Lisa Miller then struggled to hand the baton to Elva Goulbourne, dropping the Tigers to the back of the pack. With Goulbourne and anchor Daniele Browning the final two legs, the Tigers moved up to fourth with their fastest time of the season, 43.2. The Tigers finished behind LSU (42.55), South Carolina (42.83) and Texas (42.86).
Goulbourne scored two more points for the Tigers with a seventh place in the 100 meters. Aleen Bailey of South Carolina ran a 11.18 to edge Muna Lee (11.22) of LSU, the favorite. Goulbourne was seventh in 11.52.
*Olympian Gabor Mate's disappointing meet continued. He just missed scoring in the hammer, taking ninth place with a toss of 213 feet, two inches to wrap up his college career.