NEW YORK (AP)—Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel admits he might be biased in thinking Blake Griffin is the best player in the country.
But with the numbers Griffin keeps putting up, it’s tough to argue.
Griffin scored 32 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to help the No. 11 Sooners beat UAB 77-67 on Wednesday night in the NIT Season-Tip Off semifinals. The Sooners advanced to the championship game on Friday to play No. 10 Purdue, which beat Boston College 71-64 in the other semifinal.
“I know there’s some other good ones and some great ones, but when you combine the package of everything, there’s not one guy I’d trade him for,” Capel said.
Griffin was unstoppable whenever he got the ball. The Blazers tried to limit his touches by doubling or tripling the 6-foot-10 sophomore center. But even that wasn’t enough to slow Griffin, who came in averaging 26 points per game. He displayed a nifty spin move that got him free for basket after basket.
Griffin, who became the first player in Big 12 history to have 20 points and 20 rebounds in consecutive games, failed to do it in a third straight. He also failed to grab 18 or more rebounds for the first time this season. Still, he impressed UAB coach Mike Davis.
“Blake Griffin just carried their basketball team,” Davis said. “Good as I’ve seen—he made some shots early in the game and carried them. He’s a big-time player. I’ve never seen a physical specimen like that in college. He’s under control. He’s really, really, really good.”
Trailing 62-60 with 5:09 left in a back-and-forth game, Oklahoma (5-0) closed with a 17-5 run. Griffin scored five points during the spurt and keyed a three-point play by Austin Johnson by stealing the ball and pitching it ahead to his teammate on a fast break. That gave Oklahoma a 67-62 lead with 4:01 left, and the Sooners cruised from there.
“We just settled down and executed and got it going on the defensive end first,” Griffin said. “We got a couple deflections and that’s the key to us really putting a team away like that, making stops at the defensive end and taking it away and converting.”
Paul Delaney III scored 23 points and Robert Vaden added 18 to lead UAB (4-1), which was looking to match the school record for consecutive wins to start a season set by the 1983-84 team. Even more impressive about the Blazers’ strong start is this: They’ve played all their games away from home.
Trailing 34-29 at halftime, the Sooners took over by continuing a 6-0 run they used to close the first period. Oklahoma started the second half with a 17-7 spurt to build a 45-41 advantage 5 minutes in. The teams traded baskets from there over the next 10 minutes, with UAB taking a 62-60 lead on Vaden’s layup.
Griffin kept Oklahoma in the game in the first half, scoring 13 points. Trailing 18-15, UAB went on a 10-0 run as Vaden scored five points during the spurt for a 25-18 lead with 6:46 left. The Blazers extended the lead to 34-23 on Delaney’s layup with 2:49 left. Oklahoma was able to close within five at halftime as Griffin scored six straight points.
“He kept them in the game in the first half and allowed his teammates to adjust to our speed,” Davis said.
Cade Davis had 12 points on four 3-pointers for Oklahoma, which advanced to New York by beating Mississippi Valley State and Davidson. UAB got to Madison Square Garden by topping Santa Clara and Arizona. The Blazers beat Arizona on a last-second free throw by Delaney.