A short stay

Griffin, Oklahoma knock Bears and Bozeman out in the first round

March 20, 2009|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,jeff.barker@baltsun.com

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -Todd Bozeman will always remember how he kept a promise to himself by returning to the NCAA tournament.

Once there, however, the Morgan State coach and his Bears encountered a formidable obstacle last night: Player of the Year candidate Blake Griffin.

Griffin and his Oklahoma Sooners, the South Regional's No. 2 seed, put a speedy end to Morgan State's tournament, pulling away early and winning, 82-54.

Morgan State had played some tournament-bound schools in the regular season - beating Maryland and losing to Washington - but hadn't seen anybody like Griffin, the 6-foot-10 forward who entered averaging 21.9 points and 14.3 rebounds.

Griffin, who has recovered from a concussion suffered last month, scored 10 of Oklahoma's first 12 points as the Sooners took a 12-11 lead. He finished the half 8-for-9 from the field for 16 points. He had 28 for the game.

Morgan State had no answer for the sophomore, who was guarded at various times by redshirt freshman Kevin Thompson, sophomore forward Rodney Stokes and redshirt freshman Ameer Ali.

At 6-4, Ali is six inches shorter than Griffin. He irritated Griffin in the second half by repeatedly pushing the Sooners star. Then Ali was ejected from the game for a rough foul in which Griffin was flipped over the shoulder. Oklahoma fans booed Ali as he left. Griffin walked off the court soon afterward holding his side. He applied ice to his back when he got to the bench.

"We just kind of got tangled up," said Griffin, who has grown accustomed to hard fouls. "The only reason they're doing it is to get me to do something stupid. I'm not going to play that game," Griffin said.

Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said generally that hard fouls on Griffin are "borderline ridiculous" and "it just really bothers me."

But Capel said he knows Bozeman "doesn't teach his kids to do it [commit such fouls]."

Griffin scored on dunks and step-back jumpers. His only bad moment came when he shot an air ball from the foul line with Oklahoma ahead 42-23 early in the second half. The Sprint Center crowd hooted.

Up 12-11, the Sooners scored nine points in a row to take a 21-11 lead. The highlight was an alley-oop layup by Griffin.

Griffin also contributed defensively.

In the first half, the Sooners brought their defense - often including Griffin - as far out as the three-point line to stop point guard Jermaine "Itchy" Bolden from penetrating or making plays.

Bozeman had said of Bolden before the game: "We go as Itchy goes."

The Sooners made sure Bolden didn't go far. He had zero points and one assist in a first half in which Oklahoma took a 40-21 lead.

Morgan State's other scorers weren't faring much better. Reggie Holmes, who had 45 combined points in his last two games, was held to 2-for-9 shooting in the first half. He finished with 14 points.

It was Bozeman's first appearance in the tournament since 1996, when he coached California.

He left the school - which he had led to a 1993 tournament upset of Duke - after admitting paying the family of a recruit. He vowed to himself he would coach again and reach the tournament.

But he knew Morgan State faced a daunting task. He joked before the game that "I've been looking for Kryptonite" to slow Griffin.

Griffin suffered a concussion during the first half of a loss at Texas on Feb. 21. He returned a few games later for a win over Texas Tech. But Oklahoma lost two regular-season games even after his return -- and four of its last six overall heading into the tournament.

The Sooners will face Michigan in a second-round game tomorrow.

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