Purdue long on talent but short on answers to stop Griffin
NEW YORK -- Blake Griffin wanted the ball. Tony Crocker didn't give it to him and as the play ended with a whistle and a foul, Griffin turned and threw up his hands toward Crocker. While a Sooners teammate shot the ensuing free throws, Griffin took his spot in the blocks opposite Crocker and kept right on talking to his teammate.
His back was turned, so it's impossible to know what he was saying, but a good guess is that he was suggesting that when he's open, he'd like to get the ball.
It's not petulant when you're right.
The only thing standing between Oklahoma and a breakout season is its own foolishness.
Note to Sooners: If Blake Griffin is open by a fraction of an inch for a fraction of a second, get him the ball.
Rinse and repeat.
He will score, get fouled, find an open man, solve the economic crisis, help a grandmother cross a street. Something good will happen.
Once Oklahoma realized that, had the "Aha!" moment that the guy standing in the low post could be the best player in college basketball, a tantalizingly complicated game against UAB got frighteningly easy, ending with a 77-67 OU win in the second semifinal of the NIT Season Tip-Off on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Sooners will face Purdue, 71-64 winners over Boston College, on Friday (ESPN2, 3:30 p.m. ET) for the title.
"I constantly remind our guys that when Blake Griffin gets the ball for us, good things will happen,'' coach Jeff Capel said. "You have to double him. If not, he's going to score all day and your whole team will be in foul trouble. And when he's doubled, he's not a pig. He's not a black hole. He does as good a job of feeding people as anybody in the game.''
That's something the Boilermakers are all too aware of.
You can read the Boilermakers' roster over and over again and you're not going to find a body suited to handle Griffin.
The Boilermakers are guard heavy, a team based more on finesse than brawn. Their big man, JaJuan Johnson, gives up almost 50 pounds to Griffin. Their best forward, Robbie Hummel, plays on the wing and their biggest body, Nemanja Calasan, plays just a few minutes.
Purdue had its hands full for much of the early semifinal game against Boston College, a team similar in size to OU but not even close in talent. The Boilers got beat on the boards 39-34, winning the game on their defensive tenacity.
"We have skilled wings,'' coach Matt Painter said. "They're very good basketball players but they're a different kind of basketball player.''
That's not to say Purdue can't win. Blessed with great shooters and an irksome defense, the No. 9 Boilers are picked to win the Big Ten for a reason.
Even though Purdue is the higher-ranked team (OU is No. 13) in Friday's final, it will likely still be viewed as the underdog. It will be constant collateral damage to a team that is unselfish -- four players scored in double figures against BC -- to the point that there really is no superstar among the Boilers. Hummel is the league's preseason player of the year; Chris Kramer the reigning top defensive player in the conference. But this is not a team full of household names.
If it doesn't make Purdue overlooked, it certainly makes them less sexy.
"We definitely want to send a message,'' guard Keaton Grant said. "We feel like we want to get more respect, prove that what happened last year wasn't a fluke and that we can compete with anybody.''
Among the anybodies who could change that perception is Griffin. If the Boilermakers can find a way to top OU, they likely will have found a way to best Griffin and that's sure to turn some heads.
Were it that simple.
"There's no other Blake Griffin in the NCAA,'' Purdue guard E'Twaun Moore said, "a 6-foot-9 guy getting 20 rebounds a game. It's definitely a great challenge.''
Capel calls Griffin unique. He uses the word more because of Griffin's decision to return to college than his feverish intensity that refuses to take one possession off.
It also applies to Griffin's game. There aren't a whole lot of players who can do a double spin on a baseline drive and stuff the ball with one hand.
Griffin can and he did.
The oohs and aahs filling Madison Square Garden were interrupted with man-crush screams.
"You're my guy, Blake,'' yelled one.
"Your arms are huge,'' yelled another.
"No one can stop you,'' said another, clearly the smartest of the bunch.
"There's not one guy playing basketball I'd trade him for,'' Capel said. "Maybe LeBron.''
Griffin finished with 32 points and 15 rebounds against UAB, another ho-hum double-double in what promises to be a season's worth of numbers so preposterously silly they'll resemble superhero numbers by April.
Here's the rub with Griffin. He's as lethal when he's not scoring as he is when he's putting the ball in the basket. For all of Michael Beasley's talent at Kansas State last year, he had a tendency to waffle away for a few possessions, and lose focus when the play was directed for him.
UAB threw two at Griffin every time he touched the ball, swarming him around the low post in a blanket of green. The one time they didn't -- when the Blazers inexplicably left him to help on Cade Davis, Davis drove and dumped the ball to Griffin under the hoop.
The rim is still rattling.
When UAB did double Griffin, Davis was open and Griffin was all too happy to recognize it. The sharpshooter sank four 3-pointers, all in the second half to key the Sooners' rally from four down at the break.
"We have to remember to work the ball inside out,'' Griffin said, "because when we do, no one can contain our guards.''
The catch is that the rest of the Sooners don't complicate the game. Guys in the low post think they're open about as often as Terrell Owens. In other words, all the time. They want the ball every possession, whether they should have it or not.
Griffin should have it.
After he had his little chat with Crocker, a chat he insists he doesn't remember because "Tony did a really good job all night,'' it should be noted that Crocker fed Griffin like a mama bird stuffing worms in her baby.
The thank you came from Griffin with 3:10 to play.
Up 67-64, Crocker tossed the ball down low to Griffin and then swung around to the other side of the arc. Unable to back down toward the basket, Griffin instead stepped out. He spied Crocker on the opposite wing and hurled a skip pass to him.
In one move, Crocker swished the hoop and ended the Blazers' threat with a 3.
Good things indeed do happen when Blake Griffin touches the ball.
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com.