NORMAN, Okla. (AP)—Had he known beforehand that Oklahoma star Blake Griffin wouldn’t make a field goal on Saturday, Utah coach Jim Boylen surmised what he thought would happen.
“We win,” he said.
But Griffin, handicapped by foul trouble for much of the first half, still found a way to lift No. 5 Oklahoma to a 70-52 victory over the Utes, going 11-of-14 at the free-throw line, grabbing 11 rebounds and routinely passing to open teammates.
Griffin—who entered the game shooting 58.9 percent from the line— finished with a season-low 11 points in 23 minutes, but Oklahoma (10-0) matched its best start since 2003-04. The Sooners have won 68 of their last 70 home nonconference games.
“He had a tough go because of foul trouble,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said of Griffin. “… But our guys stepped up. Certainly we don’t want to play without Blake in the game for us for extended minutes, but we showed today that we beat a good team and we were able to find a way. We feel like we have some other good players and I think they’re starting maybe to find their groove a little bit.”
Routinely double- and triple-teamed, Griffin managed only three shots, missing them all. It was only the second time during Griffin’s two seasons with the Sooners that he had been held without a basket, and the first carries an asterisk: He injured his knee 5 minutes into a loss at Kansas last season.
“It was hard because it felt like I was getting fouled every time I got the ball,” said Griffin, who had scored at least 18 points in each of the Sooners’ nine games. “But it helped that everyone else was playing good. … It’s easy to forget how you are doing personally when all your teammates are there to pick you up.”
All five starters scored in double figures for Oklahoma. Austin Johnson had 14 points, Willie Warren 12 and Taylor Griffin and Tony Crocker 11 each. The Sooners went 26-of-30 from the line and committed only eight turnovers, while Utah had 10—seven of those in the first 11 minutes.
“If a team beats you from the line, I think you have to live with that, and they are a good basketball team,” Boylen said, adding that Griffin “plays with the most force of anybody in college basketball.”
Lawrence Borha and Shaun Green led Utah (5-4) with 12 points each as the Utes dropped their third straight. The Utes, who entered the game shooting 50.4 percent, hit 34 percent from the field, their lowest of mark the season.
Utah trailed 30-21 at halftime and pulled within seven three times in the second half. The Utes were within 60-52 after two free throws by Tyler Kepkay with 3:49 left, but layups by Johnson and Crocker started a game-ending 10-0 run for Oklahoma.
“I think the one thing that was pretty consistent for us was our defense,” Capel said.
Blake Griffin finished with his eighth double-double of the season, but Oklahoma had to survive while he sat on the bench much of the first half.
Blake Griffin picked up two fouls in the first 4 minutes while guarding Utah’s 7-foot-2 Luke Nevill. Oklahoma struggled early with its shooting, not making a basket until the 12:39 mark. But the Utes proved unable to take advantage, missing 10 of their first 11 shots. The teams were tied 4-4 7 minutes into the game.
“Our poor shooting really hurt us,” Nevill said. “We were missing some easy shots. We weren’t able to make any shots when it counted and they were making some difficult shots.”
With Blake Griffin out, reserve Ryan Wright carried the load inside, teaming with guards Warren and Crocker to help the Sooners build a lead. Warren had two 3-pointers, Wright went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line and Crocker ignited the Lloyd Noble Center crowd with a steal and breakaway dunk as part of a 12-0 run that put Oklahoma up 16-4.
“It hurt that I had to sit for so long in the first half, but other guys did a good job of coming in and keeping it going,” Griffin said.
Utah pulled within 17-14 and Griffin re-entered after a 10-minute absence as Capel tried to jump-start the Sooners’ offense again. The gamble worked. When Griffin again went to the bench, with 2:52 left in the half, Oklahoma’s lead was back to double digits, 28-17.
With Oklahoma up 41-27 with 15:21 left, Utah’s Luke Drca tripped Blake Griffin while the Sooners were on a fast break. Warren and Drca jawed, and officials slapped Warren with a technical foul. Drca was called for an intentional foul.
“I just made a mistake,” Drca said. “I tripped a guy, but I didn’t mean to. I just wanted to win the game.”
Nevill finished with 10 points and has yet to be held under double figures this season.