Sooners ready for Michigan

Morgan State tried a WWE-style takedown on Blake Griffin without much success. Next it’s Michigan’s turn to stop Oklahoma’s burly forward.

Will the Wolverines try a full nelson? A piledriver? Maybe a folding chair to the back of the head will do the trick.

Nah, Michigan will probably try something more conventional against Griffin, perhaps a few double teams or collapse on him with a zone—and hope it works.

“Oh, boy, it’s really hard,” Michigan coach John Beilein said of slowing down Griffin. “The individual (defender) has got to be very tough and then you have to play great team defense around him.”

Ameer Ali’s attempted body slam of Griffin was one of the stranger moments of the NCAA’s first round. It happened Thursday night when the two players got tangled in the second half of Oklahoma’s 82-54 rout over Morgan State.

Ali, a reserve forward who gives up six inches and 20 pounds to Griffin, locked arms with the Sooners’ best player, then bent over and flipped him to the court. Griffin bounced back up and kept playing, finishing off another dominating game with 28 points and 13 rebounds. Ali was immediately ejected.

Griffin sustained a bruised tailbone and was still sore on Friday, but doesn’t expect to be limited in Saturday’s second-round game against the Wolverines. And he still wasn’t willing to bash Ali.

“My reaction is still the same at last night: We got tangled and he took it personally,” Griffin said. “I don’t think he was really trying to hurt me. He just got caught up in the heat of the moment and things happen.”

Maybe Griffin is just numb to the abuse by now.

Relentless and physically dominating inside, the 6-foot-10, 251-pound power forward can be exasperating to opponents who can’t match his talent or intensity. Occasionally, some of them snap.

Southern Cal’s Leonard Washington was ejected from a game in December for throwing an elbow below the belt and Nebraska’s Ryan Anderson hit him in a similar spot with a hip check in January, though no foul was called. Griffin also had to get six stitches under his eye after getting hit against Rice and got a concussion and missed most of two games after getting whacked in the head a few times by Texas last month.

Griffin’s strength, his talent level, his ferocious determination—he dove over the scorer’s table in his first game back from the concussion—all feeds into the frustration level for opponents trying to stop him. He even gets under the skin of teammates in practice.

“He’s going to get his buckets. No matter what he’s going to power through you and it gets frustrating for guys,” said Taylor Griffin, Blake’s brother. “It gets frustrating for guys in practice, so I can’t even imagine what it’s like in a game and you’re one assignment in the game is to stop Blake and it’s not working. You’re going to get frustrated.”

A favorite for national player of the year, Griffin never once retaliated. Quiet and unassuming off the court, the sophomore answers the poundings by scoring more points and grabbing more rebounds, never letting his opponent believe for a moment that he’s rattled. Even after being whipped to the ground by Ali, Griffin rolled to his feet and acted as if nothing happened.

His coach, on the other hand, is getting sick of seeing his star player take a beating—especially after watching the tape of him being flipped like a circus acrobat.

“There’s just no place for that in our game,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “It’s just frustrating to see it happen to a kid that’s everything right in college basketball. I was probably even more frustrating after I saw it last night (on TV).”

Michigan certainly figures to jostle Griffin around a bit.

The Wolverines made a nice adjustment in the first round, solving Clemson’s press just well enough to hold off the up-tempo Tigers 62-59. Facing a physical player like Griffin is more in Michigan’s comfort zone.

Playing in the rugged Big Ten, the Wolverines are used to rough play inside, facing players like Penn State’s Jamelle Cornley and Purdue’s Robbie Hummel game after game. They haven’t gone against anyone quite as talented as Griffin, but at least have an idea what to expect.

“There are good players—maybe not with the potential Blake has—all over the Big Ten,” said Michigan forward DeShawn Sims, who will get the initial task of slowing Griffin. “The physical play, the games being grind-it-out games, most of the Big Ten is big-man dominated, there’s not too many guys getting 12-13 rebounds a game. It definitely prepares you when you play guys of this caliber.”

As for specifics of how Michigan will guard Griffin, Beilein wasn’t talking. Chances are, though, it’ll be a mix of some zone, a few double and triple teams, maybe a trap or two—and, hopefully, no moves borrowed from Triple H.


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