Not even a cheap shot could keep Blake Griffin from leading No. 6 Oklahoma to another victory.
Griffin scored 11 of his 25 points after getting hit with an elbow in the second half, and the Sooners staved off a rally by Southern California for a contentious 73-72 win Thursday night in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series.
Griffin, a preseason All-America forward, had to come out of the game after getting elbowed below the waist by USC’s Leonard Washington with 13:54 left. His brief absence helped the Trojans (5-3) as they rallied from an 11-point deficit to get within one point three times, but Oklahoma (7-0) stayed poised and had an answer every time.
“I didn’t see it, but stuff happens in a game. In the heat of the moment, some guys make decisions,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “Our guys did show some maturity and didn’t retaliate.”
Washington was ejected after officials huddled to see replays of his elbow striking Griffin below the waistline as the Trojans prepared to set up their offense.
“What do you think he said? `I didn’t do it,”’ said Trojans coach Tim Floyd, who didn’t see the play happen live. “He’s a freshman. He doesn’t know that we film everything. But he’s a good guy.”
Griffin missed both free throws before coming out of the game, and Southern Cal got two quick baskets—the second a two-handed alley-oop jam by DeMar DeRozan from Daniel Hackett that cut the deficit to 52-48.
Hackett got the Trojans within 60-59 when he drove the right baseline for a right-handed jam, but then he added another dicey moment with an intentional foul against Griffin on a fast break. Floyd said he questioned that call because Hackett caught Griffin across the arms.
“Maybe he came hard, but if you go soft it’s a three-point play. That’s to me a good play, but it’s a matter of opinion,” Floyd said. “It’s a judgment game, and those guys have good judgment.”
USC was within one again after Hackett faked a drive to the basket and pulled up for a 3-pointer that made it 69-68, and the Trojans had a chance to go ahead the next trip down but squandered it on a travel by Taj Gibson with 1:55 remaining.
The Griffin brothers combined to go 4-for-4 from the foul line after that, and it was just enough to keep Oklahoma ahead.
Hackett hit two free throws with 3.4 seconds left after Capel instructed his team to foul with a three-point lead. After Cade Davis, a 97 percent career free throw shooter, missed two foul shots for Oklahoma, DeRozan’s desperation heave from beyond halfcourt sailed wide right at the buzzer.
Austin Johnson scored 17 points and Griffin’s older brother, Taylor, had 10 points, nine rebounds and tied his career best with four blocks. The Sooners overcame a 34-25 rebounding deficit by committing a season-low eight turnovers.
“They did a good job of blocking out, but I think the biggest thing was they did a good job of going and getting the rebound,” said Blake Griffin, who was held below 15 rebounds for the first time this season and ended up with six. He had been averaging 19.2 rebounds to lead the nation.
“I guess I didn’t want it bad enough.”
Dwight Lewis led Southern California with 25 points, Gibson had 12 points and 10 rebounds and DeRozan scored 10 points. Hackett added a career-high 13 assists.
Floyd thought his team progressed with its execution down the stretch while Capel lamented some late mistakes—including getting the ball to Blake Griffin, a 60 percent free throw shooter, in a corner where he could be trapped. Griffin then traveled to give USC the ball back with a three-point deficit and 6.7 seconds left.
“Our practices this week have been disjointed, and that’s how we played,” Capel said. “We didn’t have everyone. I think (Tuesday) was the first time we had everyone practice. We had strep throat, we had a leg injury, we had a back injury, we had another guy that was sick.
“We played that way, and they made us look that way with how good they are and how talented they are.”
Wayman Tisdale, Oklahoma’s all-time leading scorer, got a standing ovation at halftime in his first return to the Lloyd Noble Center since having part of his right leg amputated because of cancer. Even Golden State Warriors executive vice president Chris Mullin, who was seated on press row, stood to cheer.