Saturday March 28th, 2009

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- You almost felt sorry for Syracuse's Kristof Ongenaet.

There he was with 14:50 left in the second half diving after a ball underneath the Orange's basket. But then an eye-blink after the 6-foot-8', 215-pound Ongenaet slid onto the hardwood, Oklahoma's Griffin Brothers --all 489-combined pounds of Blake and Taylor -- leapt on top of him as if it was a schoolyard game of "Kill the Man With the Ball." The brothers grabbed the basketball, prompting the ref to signal for a jump ball. But what was so telling about this sequence was that it illustrated that Syracuse, in a minor upset, couldn't match the physical play of the Sooners, who throttled the Orange 84-71 (RECAP | BOX SCORE) at FedEx Arena in Memphis.

"We kept hearing all week that Big East was the best conference in the country and that Syracuse would out-physical us, and it pissed us off," said Oklahoma sophomore guard Cade Davis. "Well, we play pretty physical basketball in the Big 12 as well. We felt like we weren't getting any respect, but I think we earned it tonight."

Here are three things we learned in the Sooners' surprisingly easy victory.

1. Oklahoma is much more than a one-man show.

On the day before the game Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim grew weary of answering questions about how his team was going to stop Blake Griffin, the Big 12 Player of the Year and National Player of the Year. Boeheim kept saying that the Sooners' roster was loaded with dangerous players not named Blake Griffin. Turns out he was right, though Blake did score a game-high 30 points.

But Oklahoma also got 28 points of junior guard Aaron Crocker (more on him in a moment) and nine out of guard Austin Johnson and Taylor Griffin. "The other guys heard people saying that we were a one-man team, and trust me we're not," said Blake Griffin. "We've got plenty of other guys who can step up, which is what Tony did tonight. This is why I came back was for games like this. Now we just have to keep Tony hot."

Which brings us to...

2. If OU keeps hitting its threes, the Sooners will be very, very tough to beat.

The second-best player on the floor on Friday night was Crocker, who hit six of 11 from beyond the arc and nine of 17 shots overall. If teams keep collapsing on Griffin like Syracuse did, Crocker should continue to get open looks from deep. And if he's on, this is a team that's eminently capable of going all the way.

3. The Orange had a nice run.

Syracuse arguably was the most impressive team in the first two rounds of the tournament, trouncing Stephen F. Austin 59-44 and Arizona State 78-67. But on Friday the 'Cuse simply ran into a better, more prepared squad. But there is hope for Orange fans. If Jonny Flynn comes back next season instead of turning pro, then Boeheim will return his entire starting lineup. If that happens, this should be a preseason top-five team.

Player who Impressed Me

Along with Blake Griffin and Crocker, OU's Taylor Griffin played an outstanding game. He scored nine points and grabbed five rebounds on Friday, but it's the little things that he does so well-box out, run down loose balls, set rock-solid picks-that make him so valuable. Every championship team needs a Taylor Griffin.

Courtside Confidential

I was sitting about 20 feet away when Blake Griffin positively flattened Flynn late in the second half. As Griffin sprinted down the right wing on a fast break and cut to the basket while dribbling the ball, Flynn got in position to try to take a charge. Bad idea. Griffin soared to the hoop, hit the lay-up, and then crashed down on the 6-foot, 185-pound Flynn like a cowboy boot crunching a bug. The noise the collision emitted sounded like something you'd hear on a football field. Flynn stayed on the floor for a few minutes. When he finally rose to his feet, he was never the same player the rest of the night.

Going Forward

Oklahoma is peaking the perfect time. Everyone will focus on the probable Blake Griffin-Tyler Hansbrough match-up in Sunday's South Regional Final between the Sooners and North Carolina, but I think the game will come down to which team shoots better from the perimeter. Oklahoma has three credible threats from downtown -- Crocker, guard Willie Warren and Johnson -- and if this trio hits 40 percent or better from beyond the arc, the Sooners will have an excellent chance to advance.

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