MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Sunday’s South Regional finals revealed two certainties. Player of the Year: no doubt, Blake Griffin. Playing on: no contest, Tyler Hansbrough and North Carolina. The highly anticipated Player of the Year pairing never produced, with Griffin overpowering Hansbrough and anybody else the No. 2-ranked Tar Heels threw at him inside. But while No. 7 Oklahoma had the best player, North Carolina had the better team, bore out in a 72-60 verdict that halted the Sooners just shy of the Final Four. Griffin continued his season-long dominance, scoring a game-high 23 points and adding 16 rebounds. But unlike Friday night’s win over Syracuse, this time he had little help, with only Willie Warren joining him in double figures scoring and needing 16 shots to get there. The Sooners missed their first 15 shots from behind the arc, failing to connect on a 3-pointer until just 5:13 remained and trailing 61-44. OU finished just 2-of-19 long range, after hitting 9-of-21 there two nights earlier vs. the Orange. "It stinks that we had a night like this, with so much at stake,” said Sooners coach Jeff Capel. OU players were left trying to balance all that went right in this season, culminating in a 30-6 final record and a trip to the Elite Eight just two years after the program failed to make the postseason for the first time in 25 years. "I told (our players) I was proud of them,” Capel said. "I thought we earned respect throughout the year.” North Carolina coach Roy Williams had a message for Griffin, stopping for a touching exchange during the post-game hand shake. "He said I was one of the greatest players he ever coached against,” Griffin said. "And he told me to not think about this game, but think about the season. "That was a really nice thing to say, considering how long he’s been in this business and how many players he’s coached against.” Griffin was great, yet still not enough with his teammates struggling from the outset. While Griffin made 9-of-12 shots from the floor, the rest of the Sooners combined to convert just 13-of-42. Crocker, a star with his six 3-pointers against Syracuse, misfired on all five of his shots from the arc. OU’s other starting guards, Warren and Austin Johnson, together made just 2-of-11 out there. Only reserve Juan Pattillo provided any sort of an offensive boost, contributing nine points off the bench. "I didn’t feel like we had our whole team,” said Taylor Griffin, who totaled four points and two rebounds before fouling out in his final game as a Sooner. "The effort was there. I felt like we played pretty good defense, considering who they are and what they can do. "But at halftime, we’re down nine, and we’re 0-for-9 from the 3-point line. We hit three of those, and it’s a tie ball game. That’s only 33 percent from 3, so... Just little things like that. It’s disappointing. But that’s the way it is.” North Carolina bolted to a 13-2 lead, and the Sooners scrambled just to stay in sight, trailing by as many as 21 in the second half, before a late surge got them within 12 at the 4:32 mark. The Sooners limited Hansbrough, last year’s consensus National Player of the Year, to eight points and six rebounds. Wayne Ellington, averaging 21 points in the NCAA Tournament before Sunday, managed just nine. Still, the Tar Heels had plenty. The Sooners didn’t have near enough. "It wasn’t our defense,” Capel said. "That team’s averaging 90, and we held them to 72. It was just our offense. It couldn’t get going for us today. We’re a team that averages 80, and we couldn’t get above 60 today.”
OU started 0-for-15 from beyond the arc Sunday, looking for a while like it might not connect for a 3-pointer, before hitting two in the final minutes. Ironically, the last time the Sooners failed to sink a 3 was December 23, 1996 — in Memphis — when they missed all 13 tries in a 61-47 loss to then-Memphis State in The Pyramid. Despite avoiding the oh-fer, Sunday’s many misses were costly.