January 21, 2009

OU's Griffin not the only concern for Nebraska

Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler has already come to terms with the fact that Oklahoma sophomore Blake Griffin will likely score more than 20 points when the Huskers take on the No. 5 Sooners tonight in Norman, Okla.


Considering Griffin is coming into the game averaging 22 points and 13.4 rebounds per game this season, Sadler is perfectly fine with the national player of the year candidate getting his usual numbers against the Huskers.




PREGAME NOTES


Tip: 8:05 p.m. CST

Where: Lloyd Noble Center (12,000)

Head Coach: Doc Sadler 3rd yr (49-31 overall)

Radio: Husker Sports Radio Network stations (Play-by-play: Kent Pavelka. Color: Matt Davison.)


TV: ESPNU (Play-by-play: Ron Franklin. Color: Fran Fraschilla.)

Series: Oklahoma leads 103-81






What he won't be OK with is if one of Oklahoma's other dangerous players goes off for a huge night instead.


Despite being asked all week what it's going to take for Nebraska to slow down Griffin, Sadler has stressed that keeping OU's supporting cast in check would prove to be an equally important task.


"That's why they're really good," Sadler said. "If it was just Blake, then you could stop him. You could put three or four guys on him. But you don't have the ability to do that because they've got two or three other guys that can go for 20 on you, and if they get that second guy into 20 points, then the chances of you being successful in my opinion aren't very good."


In the Huskers' loss to Iowa State last week, they ran into a similar situation where all the pregame focus was how they would match-up with ISU's 6-foot-10 forward Craig Brackins. However, it was the 3-point shooting from underappreciated guard Lucca Staiger that proved to be the difference, as Staiger went off for 20 points behind six 3-pointers.


Sadler said Nebraska can't allow the same thing to happen tonight if it's to have any chance at knocking off the Sooners. Along with Griffin, OU boasts two other players averaging 10 or more points per game this season in guards Willie Warren and Tony Crocker.






Oklahoma (17-1, 3-0 Big 12)

8:05 p.m.


Nebraska (12-4, 2-1 Big 12)

ESPNU






























PROJECTED STARTERS



Nebraska 12-4




Pos

#

Name

Yr

Pts/reb

G

5

Sek Henry (6-3, 200)

Jr

9.4/3.4

G

4

Steve Harley (5-11, 180)

Sr

12.3/3.6

G

11

Ade Dagunduro (6-5, 200)

Sr

10.8/3.8

G

24

Cookie Miller (5-7, 165)

Jr

6.6/2.3

F

32

Chris Balham (6-8, 235)

Jr

2.3/2.2





Oklahoma 17-1




Pos

#

Name

Yr

Pts/reb

G

20

Austin Johnson (6-3, 176)

So

7.7/4.4

G

13

Willie Warren (6-4, 207)

Fr

15.5/2.9

G

5

Tony Crocker (6-6, 206)

Jr

10.4/3.6

F

32

Taylor Griffin (6-7, 238)

Sr

9.1/6.6

F

23

Blake Griffin (6-10, 251)

So

22.0/13.4






Warren has been an almost equally dangerous scoring threat as Griffin, as the freshman is averaging 15.5 points and shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the arc.


Oh, and don't forget about Griffin's older brother, Taylor Griffin, who's averaging 9.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest. Sadler said Taylor Griffin's ability to score second-chance points off of offensive rebounds makes him especially dangerous for the undersized Huskers.


"With Taylor, Taylor's a good compliment (to Blake) because he plays off of his brother and attacks the offensive boards," Sadler said. "He's an aggressive player."


However, no matter how much emphasis Sadler puts on slowing down the rest of the Sooners, there's no question that containing Blake Griffin will be priority No. 1. Sadler said "containing" is the appropriate word because the chances of Nebraska taking Griffin out the game completely are slim to now.


Instead, Sadler said he hopes to hold Griffin's numbers to right around his season averages and make sure none of the other Sooners go off for a big night. He said if Nebraska can do that, there's no reason why they can't go into Norman and pull off the upset.


Either way, Sadler said he would be glad he wouldn't have to prepare for a national player of the year candidate again until at least the postseason or possibly next year. Well, at least until the Big 12 Conference produces the next one.


"There's no question that he's one of the two or three best players in college basketball," Sadler said. "I'll just be glad when we quit having the player of the year in this league. He is very, very good."


WHAT TO LOOK FOR:


While how Nebraska handles a player like Griffin is obviously the biggest storyline, the difference in the game could be how many opportunities the Huskers give Griffin and the rest of the Sooners to hurt them.


Limiting offensive rebounds and second-chance points and creating turnovers will all be crucial for the Huskers to have any shot tonight. Sadler said that if NU can keep Oklahoma's offensive rebounds and its turnovers somewhat equal, his team would have a shot to win the game.


WHO'S HOT FOR THE HUSKERS


Senior guard Paul Velander broke out with one of the best games of his career in Saturday's win over Kansas State, as he finished with a career-high 20 points while hitting six 3-pointers in the process.


If the Huskers can find ways to get Velander some open looks on the perimeter, he could help provide some big 3-pointers and continue to breathe life into Nebraska's previously struggling offense.


WHO'S HOT FOR THE SOONERS


Well, if it wasn't obvious already from the story above, the heart and soul of the Sooners is undoubtedly Blake Griffin. His presence down low gives Oklahoma a weapon maybe only a handful of teams in the country can rival, and unless something unexpected happens, he's likely a shoe-in for the national player of the year award.


All week during practice Sadler has told his team that the bulk of Oklahoma's offense goes through Griffin one way or another, and that shouldn't be any different tonight.

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