Oklahoma was poised to take over the number one spot in the nation in the latest poll, but something happened on the way through Austin, Texas. A rejuvenated Longhorn squad fired just enough threes and kept the Sooners at bay winning (73-68) and kept them from their first number one ranking since 1990.
Head coach Jeff Capel was forced to watch his Sooners compete without
their star, Blake Griffin. Griffin took a shot to the nose in the first
half and left the game dazed and confused, reportedly with a
concussion. Griffin spent the second half watching from the bench which
according to Capel was a doctor's decision. Sunday the Oklahoman
reported Griffin's MRI was "clear" but his status for Monday's game
with KU is still in doubt.
Maybe it is a bit of déjà vu for the McDonald's High School
All-American and the nation's leading rebounder. Last season in
Lawrence, Griffin injured his knee and played just five minutes going
0-2 in a rout by KU on Big Monday. You can be sure if he can play
Griffin wants a crack at the four-time Big 12 champs.
In that situation you never want to see a good player come out of the
game because of injury. We played so good that game. That was a game we
were really, really good—in tune and focused - he would've impacted the
game differently but I don't know if he would've impacted the game in a
way that would've meant a different result at all," said KU head coach
Kansas will prepare as if Griffin will play and will impact the game.
For Self that means he will likely send double teams at the Sooner star
when he's in the post. He will get plenty of attention in the KU
scouting report but all year long Self has stressed that there is a
danger in paying too much attention to one player, but there is no
doubt in his mind who the best player in the country is this year.
"I think Blake is the best player in the country," Self said. "We held
(Michael) Beasley to 39 last year and held (Kevin) Durant twice to 35
and 37 so I'm really high on those guys. But I think Blake is a more
complete guy. I think he impacts the game in more ways than those other
guys do. Running, rebounding, passing, he's very skilled and he loves
to jump. He loves to show off his athletic ability. He's got great
energy and bounce."
Last season in KU's first meeting with K-State in Manhattan Michael Beasley got the attention but his teammates were able to do enough
damage to get the win. Beasley scored more in the game in Lawrence but
the result was more favorable with KU earning the "W". So in
concentrating on shutting one player down you can't let the rest of the
team beat you and OU is perfectly capable of doing that with a terrific
Maybe sophomore center Cole Aldrich said it best, "it's not Blake
Griffin against Kansas, it is Oklahoma against Kansas"
And the Oscar on Capel's team for best supporting actor just might go
to freshman Willie Warren. Self knows all to well about the talents of
the 6-4 freshman. Warrem was a KU recruiting target and is one of the
best freshmen in the country. He nearly outshot A.J. Abrams of Texas on
Saturday and earned his team a win despite Griffin's absence. Warren's
heroic effort included six three-pointers and he has shown if you leave
him alone you're making a big mistake.
"The reason they are (25-2) is because guys around (Blake Griffin) are
playing well and he makes the game easier for them. Willie Warren – I
read the other day one person had him - and not that this matters – but
someone had him as the second best freshmen in America and the 12th
best shooting guard in America overall – that's pretty good for a
freshman," Self told reporters after the Nebraska win on Saturday.
If Kansas wants to win the Big 12 regular season for a fifth straight
time a win in Norman could go a long way. Three opponents remain after
Monday for KU but the Hawks get Missouri and Texas at home and a
struggling Texas Tech team on the road. You'd have to say if KU wins
this one it would be advantage Kansas.
"You could play great at OU and not win," Self stated. "I'm not putting
all the emphasis on this one game like this is for all the marbles. But
our guys are smart. And they understand it is a huge game and that it
will have conference championship implications, there's no doubt about
that. I'm anxious to see how we react in a big stage."
Self hopes that the outcome is different from the team he took into
Austin three years ago. KU came in off a 10-game win streak, playing
for a conference lead and was on the receiving end of a Texas blowout,
80-55. Kansas did come back and defeat Texas a couple weeks later to
take the Big 12 Tournament title.
"I told our guys after we lost to Texas that game had a different feel
to it. And there was a different pressure in that game because all of a
sudden now everybody's is pointing to you and we were just flying under
the radar and we didn't handle it very well," Self reflected. "So I do
think it is good to play for high stakes and feel a different kind of
pressure which prepares you for the NCAA Tournament."
"It's one of those games if you don't show up you can get blown out but
I think coach will have us ready and we'll be pumped up for a game like
that," said Sherron Collins.
KU enters this game as the underdog the only question is how big of an
underdog it will be because without Griffin a win in Norman certainly
looks less formidable. Self will certainly be trying to convince his
team they are the underdog with less pressure then the big bad Sooners.
"I think sometimes when you feel like the pressure is on the other team
to win, I do think that's a great situation to be in absolutely," said
Chance For KU To Take Control
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