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.
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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.