OU’s 73-68 loss at Texas on Saturday night was the best kind of defeat a team can have. No matter what Jeff Capel said about wanting no moral victories, the Sooners grew as a team down in Austin.
They were staggered with two mighty blows: 1) the loss of Blake Griffin, first for foul trouble in the first half and then with a concussion for the rest of the game; and 2) a Texas run that appeared to make the game primed for blowout. And yet OU did not wither.
The Sooners rallied from a 41-29 deficit to take a 43-41 lead. And after Texas led 50-50 midway through the second half, the Sooners stormed back for a 61-56 lead. So in the second half, against a good team that was playing for its life in front of a frenzied crowd that smelled Sooner blood, OU had runs of 14-0 and 11-0. all without its bellcow.
That will help OU in so many fronts, while hurting on none, other than the sting of a solitary defeat.
1. The game did not hurt OU in the Big 12 standings. The Sooners were going to need to beat Kansas on Monday night no matter what happened in Austin, Texas. Oh, I guess if OU beats KU, then loses at Missouri, and KU wins out, then that game in Austin will loom large, but that’s a bunch of ifs. The big conference game is Monday night at the Lloyd Noble Center.
2. The game did not hurt OU in the NCAA Tournament seedings. First of all, the Sooners — along with Pitt, UConn and North Carolina — still seem in great shape for a No. 1 seed. And the NCAA committee, for better or for worse, microscopes games, so that it will know that OU lost Griffin for most of the Texas game. That loss won’t be held against the Sooners.
3. Best of all, this game will fortify the Sooners. OU comes away from this game with more confidence than if it had beaten Texas with a healthy Griffin. Knowing they can play well without Griffin will be a great confidence boost for this team. OU seemed to be lost early without Griffin (with him, too, frankly) but found its bearings and went to the wire with Texas.
The Longhorns played well. A.J. Abrams got hot and seemed to make every big shot down the stretch. Damion James was dominant inside. And yet OU almost won.
Tony Crocker’s tying 3-pointer bounced off in the final five seconds, and just before that Dexter Pittman rebounded a Texas miss and put in a shot that gave UT a 71-68 lead. Give OU that rebound — or heck, give Taylor Griffin a foul, since he was trying to hack Pittman — and who knows how the game ends.
OU found a ballplayer who could produce. Ryan Wright was solid in relief of Griffin, playing 20 minutes (Juan Pattillo played only 14; Wright got after it more than did Pattillo).
All in all, an excellent night for the Sooners. No victory, but just about anything else OU could have asked for from a ballgame. So long as Blake Griffin is healthy for Kansas.