MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP)—Hoping to give his team a spark against a scrappy opponent in a testy atmosphere, Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel switched to a defense the Sooners hadn’t run all year.
It worked perfectly. Blake Griffin wasn’t bad, either.
Griffin had 29 points and 15 rebounds in a rare game against single coverage, and Capel’s defensive switch sparked a key run in the first half to give No. 6 Oklahoma a 61-53 win over Kansas State on Saturday in both teams’ Big 12 opener.
Capel’s switch came with about five minutes left in the first half. The Sooners were struggling to get shots off against Kansas State’s swarming defense, so Capel decided to try a 1-3-1 zone to create some easy baskets in transition.
Oklahoma (15-1) hadn’t started practicing the defense until Wednesday, but it worked flawlessly. The Sooners forced seven straight turnovers during a 10-0 run to close the first half and used it again after the break to pull away.
Oklahoma earned its first road win against a Big 12 North opponent since beating Kansas State 69-68 on Feb. 19, 2005.
“Going into conference play, we need to be able to have different looks— we want to be a better basketball team,” said Capel, back on the bench after missing Monday’s game against Maryland-Eastern Shore with a stomach virus. “We thought this is something we could do because it’s something we have done in the past. We thought it could help us out and it certainly did today.”
Oklahoma was 9-7 and won just three road games in the Big 12 last season. The expectations are a bit higher now, particularly after the Sooners’ best nonconference record since 1987-88, when they went 15-1 on the way to the national championship game.
It doesn’t get any easier from here. After a day off, Oklahoma faces No. 7 Texas in its Big 12 home opener Monday.
“We wanted to start conference games with a win,” Griffin said. “Obviously, it kind of gets us off in the right direction.”
Kansas State (11-4) had an easy run through a relatively weak nonconference schedule, beating up on teams like Emporia State, Gardner-Webb and Idaho State. Oklahoma represented Kansas State’s first real test, a chance to see where the team really stands with All-American Michael Beasley now playing in the NBA.
The Wildcats were ready for it early, not giving ground to the physical Sooners, overcoming sloppy mistakes to keep it close. Kansas State just didn’t have an answer for Oklahoma’s 1-3-1 zone and struggled with its shooting to see its 11-game home winning streak end.
The Wildcats shot 32 percent and were 3-for-14 from 3-point range in the second half—including five straight misses on one possession—after going 5-for-11 in the first. Denis Clemente led Kansas State with 18 points and Fred Brown added 12.
“We had good looks. They just kept rolling off the rim,” said Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen, who had eight points on 3-of-14 shooting.
Kansas State also had a tough time stopping Griffin.
The Wildcats opened with Luis Colon on the preseason All-American and rotated three others on him in the first five minutes. None of them could stop Griffin, who had 15 points and nine rebounds by halftime.
Kansas State did a much better job on everyone else.
Griffin and older brother Taylor combined for Oklahoma’s first 19 points, but the rest of the Sooners missed 13 straight shots before Willie Warren hit a 3-pointer with just over a minute left in the half. The Griffin brothers shot a combined 9-of-15 and the rest of the team was 2-for-15, allowing Kansas State to take a 26-19 lead late in the half.
“I told them that we have to do everything we can to make it hard on him (Griffin) defensively, yet not let the other guys get into a rhythm,” Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. “And I thought we did a pretty good job of that.”
Turnovers hurt the Wildcats.
Kansas State had eight in the first eight minutes, most on ill-advised passes that went straight to the Sooners or sailed into the crowd. It got worse after Oklahoma switched to the 1-3-1 zone late in the first half, when the Wildcats were barely able to get the ball past midcourt against the long-armed, athletic Sooners.
“They hadn’t seen us do it this year so they probably weren’t prepared for it,” Capel said. “And we were active in it. We had active hands, active bodies. K-State looked a little confused.”