Sports At Phila. Front Page News; Oklahoma tops Syracuse, advancing to Elite Eight
|Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin (23) hits his head on the backboard as he shoots against Syracuse in the second half of a men's NCAA tournament regional semifinal college basketball game in Memphis, Tenn., Friday, March 27, 2009. Oklahoma won 84-71.|
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- Oklahoma is dangerous enough with Blake Griffin. Give him some help? The Sooners are nearly unstoppable.
Griffin scored 30 points and had 14 rebounds, and Tony Crocker added a career-high 28 points as the second-seeded Sooners beat Syracuse 84-71 Friday night and advanced to their first regional final since 2003.
Oklahoma (30-5) started pulling away midway through the first half and moved on to play either top-seeded North Carolina or Gonzaga in the South Regional final Sunday looking for their first Final Four since 2002. The last time the Sooners made it this far, Syracuse beat them en route to their own national championship.
And all that talk of an All-Big East Final Four?
That's over with now. Syracuse was the league's lone representative left in the South Region. The Orange (28-10) finally ran out of the magic that helped them pull off such wins as their six-overtime marathon over Connecticut in the Big East tournament.
Griffin once again put on a show despite being double-teamed again. He mowed over Syracuse's gutsy guard Jonny Flynn going to the basket and nearly hurt himself by banging his noggin against the bottom of the backboard while driving along the baseline for a rim-rocking dunk.
But it was Crocker, the junior guard who went scoreless in the Sooners' second-round win over Michigan, who helped shred Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone. He shot right over the zone, hitting six of his first eight 3s.
Flynn led Syracuse with 22 points despite playing the second half with a bruised back after that crunching collision with Griffin, trying to take a charge under the basket. Andy Rautins added 12.
Oklahoma denied Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim his career 800th victory in a game that never really was close as the Orange never found their outside shot or the scoring balance that had five players averaging in double figures. Eric Devendorf and Rautins went a combined 1-of-13 in the first half.
The Sooners grabbed the lead from the start off a 3-pointer from Crocker from the top of the key over Devendorf's outstretched hand, and the Sooners' rout was on. They scored eight of the first 10 points, and Blake Griffin had as many points by himself (nine) as the Orange through the first 10 minutes.
Flynn tried to rally the Orange. He scored six straight points starting with a running one-hander, then a drive and finally a jumper to pull them within 18-17 with 7:15 to go.
That was as close as they would get as Oklahoma led 39-26 at halftime and put together a 20-2 spurt spanning the halves.
Every time Syracuse made a mistake, Oklahoma made the Orange pay. The Sooners scored 32 points off Syracuse's 18 turnovers, including one Devendorf lost that Crocker turned into a fast-break layup.
Then Flynn tried to set up under the basket and take a charge as Blake Griffin drove up the right side toward the basket late in the first half. The 6-foot-10, 251-pound power forward slammed into the 6-foot Flynn, knocking him onto the floor.
Flynn writhed around a couple minutes before getting up. The official diagnosis was a bruised back, and Flynn finished the game. Even though Rautins got hot and had all of his 12 in the second half, it wasn't enough to get Syracuse closer than 14 in the final minutes.