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KANSAS CITY -- Six minutes and 48 seconds into the game, and Blake Griffin already needed treatment. He had been undercut by Michigan's Manny Harris while grabbing an offensive rebound at the 15:10 mark, and tumbled hard to the floor, landing on his left elbow. A small cut soon opened, the refs eventually noticed it, and Griffin needed to don a bandage and a white arm sleeve to remain on the court. Teammate Tony Crocker looked over and thought to himself, "He's bleeding again? ... I think he's bled in every game."
This wouldn't even be the only time Griffin bled on Saturday; later, he had his nose bloodied in a battle under the hoop with Wolverines guard Zack Novak and needed cotton to stop it up with 9:33 left in the first half. When Griffin finally took a seat in the locker room following the Sooners' 73-63 win, the OU logo was far from the only crimson on his shorts. His left leg was covered in smudges. He looked down at it and said, "It might be a little more [blood] than normal."
Griffin, the consensus national player of the year, was brilliant on Saturday, scoring 33 points and grabbing 17 rebounds to get Oklahoma into the Sweet 16. He was brilliant on Thursday, too, scoring 28 (on 11-of-12 shooting) with 13 rebounds against Morgan State. But the story of Blake's first weekend, in what will likely be his last NCAA tournament before he goes on to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, was about the beatings he took -- and the fact he has superseded North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough as the most infuriating player for for opposing post players to try to guard.
In a season where Griffin has been beaten on incessantly -- from a crotch-punch by USC's Leonard Washington, to a trip by Utah's Luka Drca, to a concussion suffered against Texas, to innumerable elbows -- one had hoped it would cease in the NCAAs. Then Morgan State's Ameer Ali judo-flipped Griffin on Thursday, causing him to land hard on his tailbone. As difficult as casual observers find it to watch, it's much worse for his parents. Shots of Tommy and Gail Griffin showing various expressions of concern have become staples of CBS' broadcasts -- and they aren't pleased with how physical teams are getting with their youngest son.
"For a guy who's considered to be possibly the player of the year, and he's getting beat up like that -- from my observation, over the years, you don't normally see that," said Tommy, who coached Blake in high school in Oklahoma City. "You know Blake is going to get beat up in certain games, but it shouldn't be every game. And it is every game. Every game he's the target, but there's nothing we can do about it. We can just sit here and be as calm as we possibly can."
Gail was finding it harder to stay calm. "It's horrible," she said, "to sit and watch him getting beat up under the basket."
While the Michigan flesh wounds were more incidental, Ali's flip on Thursday -- for which he was ejected -- was the culmination of a full game of dirty play against Blake, and the refs' lack of control bothered Tommy. "It shouldn't have gotten to that point," he said. "All first half, no one was calling anything, so I guess [Ali] felt like he had free reign. If you don't clean it up, it's going to get that nasty. That really could have turned out to be a bad situation."
Blake and his older brother, Taylor, a senior who starts alongside him in the frontcourt, pacified their father on Thursday night by bringing him ice cream in the hotel -- a bowl of vanilla with caramel on top. Their coach, Jeff Capel, was still charged up about the incident on Friday, and said in the team's press conference, "That doesn't need to be in [college basketball]. ... One of the things that it could do is it could make the really elite players not want to be in college long for fear of getting hurt."
Griffin isn't likely to be in college much longer, and that will make plenty of opposing fans -- and power forwards -- happy. The flip side of the physicality debate is that many opponents, who don't have the athleticism to defend Griffin effectively, feel as if they're the ones getting short-changed by the refs. When the officials in Saturday's game tightened up on their whistles on Griffin's plays in the second half -- leading to a 27-11 free-throw advantage for OU, and Michigan starters Manny Harris and C.J. Lee fouling out -- the Wolverines' cheering section became irate, chanting "Worst Refs Ever" repeatedly down the stretch.
The fact that Griffin finished the game with just three fouls -- when, even as Alex Brown, the OU trainer in charge of stopping the bleeding, admits that "Blake gives as good as he gets" in battles for rebounds -- was a major point of contention. At one point, when Griffin was at the line in the second half, Michigan fans began yelling "Star Treatment!" (After the game, Griffin said, "I don't [get star treatment], to be honest. I feel like I get fouled just like everybody else.")
Michigan coach John Beilein might not agree. He received a technical foul with 12:30 left in the second half, for arguing a call that had gone against Novak while he was guarding Griffin. Novak stood with his hands straight up on a double-team, but was still whistled, and an incredulous Beilein asked the refs, "What are we supposed to do?"
That's question the rest of Oklahoma's opponents in the NCAA tournament will be forced to ponder. How are you legally supposed to stop Griffin, when normal means don't work? And at what point is it considered crossing the line?
The Rest Of What We Learned from Day 3
1. Memphis would have been just fine in the ACC. Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez, one of the game's best quotes because of his candor, said on Friday the Tigers would "have a losing record in the league. ... The ACC is too tough. You can't just win games night in and night out because you're so athletic." Memphis players, such as guard Doneal Mack, saw the statement but said they were merely amused by it; their fans were the ones that found it especially offensive. All through Saturday's game, they hounded Vasquez, butchering his name in various kinds of Southern twangs ("Gree-viss!" ... "Vas-kwezz!") and looking on with glee as lockdown artist Antonio Anderson flustered the Terps' star into an 18-point afternoon that came with a late technical foul.
The Tigers launched an all-out assault on the Terps, winning 89-70, and with 4:54 left in the game, the Memphis section began chanting "ACC! ACC!" Twenty-three seconds later, coach John Calipari turned to them and said, "Hey! Don't do that!" They had already made enough of a statement on the floor, by sealing a trip to their fourth straight Sweet 16.
(The Maryland side of the arena, to their credit, coaxed a crew of Kansas fans nearby to start a "Rock, Chalk" chant at the 4:10 mark, which was deserving of a touché.)
2. If you care about where, exactly, the Tigers would have finished in the ACC, burly forward Pierre Henderson-Niles has an opinion. "With the team that we've got, we can beat any team in any conference," he said, "so, I'd think first or second." Ahead of North Carolina, I asked? "We'd be in front of them," Niles said.
3. Giving teams a geographical advantage -- like letting Washington play in Portland, or Duke or Carolina in Greensboro -- is fine, but the NCAA should do away with home-court advantage. Villanova gashed UCLA 89-69 at Philadelphia's Wachovia Center in the first game on Saturday, and while the Wildcats were the much better team, would the game have been as lopsided at a neutral venue? Or would 'Nova, which endured a serious scare against No. 14 American in the first round, have made it to Round 2 at all without home-court aid?
Wildcats seniors Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark had already played in the Wachovia Center 20 times heading into this NCAA tournament: Three times this season (with the last on Feb. 28), seven times last season, five times in '06-07, and five more times in '05-06. They had an extremely high level of comfort in that place, one that went much farther than the standard regional boost the selection committee hands out to top seeds.
4. The thrilling end to the Gonzaga-Western Kentucky game was proof of why teams should never call timeout in a full-court, last-shot situation when they have speedy, bullish guards. After a tip-in by WKU's Steffphon Pettigrew tied the game with 7.1 seconds left, the Zags had two point guards on the floor: backup Demetri Goodson and starter Jeremy Pargo. Goodson took the inbounds pass and navigated the length of the court, through a Hilltoppers defense that looked to be in a collective state of paralysis, and hit the game-winner off the glass with 0.9 seconds left. The frozen WKU players will forever see that replay in their nightmares.