KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nicole Griffin didn't even play the first time the Oklahoma women faced Texas A&M. On Saturday, Griffin barely sat.
And that makes Sherri Coale's Sooners an intriguing team in the NCAA Tournament.
Hard to feel good about losing in the Big 12 semifinals, as OU did 82-69 Friday at Municipal Auditorium. But the Sooners should, anyway.
They no longer are a racehorse team dependent solely on point guard Danielle Robinson and her band of outsider shooters. These Sooners have a center.
Griffin continued her remarkable ascension. From barely playing, if at all, to indispensable in a mere month. Griffin had 12 points and eight rebounds against the Aggies, playing what Coale called “fantastic.”
Griffin didn't miss a shot (6-for-6) and made A&M All-American-to-be Danielle Adams look human. Which is not easy considering Adams had torched the Sooners for 62 points in two games this season but settled for 16 points Friday on 15 shots.
“A 6-6 kid makes a whole lot of difference,” A&M coach Gary Blair said of Griffin, a freshman from Milwaukee. “Since they put her in the lineup, I think Oklahoma will be very good in the NCAA Tournament.”
Through November, December and January, Griffin played a few minutes here, a few minutes there. Joanna McFarland and Lyndsey Cloman played more in the post, and Jelena Cerina played almost as much as Griffin.
But Coale finally sought more production from the interior, and it was Griffin's turn. Griffin had made “incremental improvement” but her playing time was not incremental.
In 10 games from Jan. 2 through Feb. 5, Griffin totaled 15 minutes. But in the 10 games since, she's averaged 24.8 minutes, 9.1 points and 5.0 rebounds.
Griffin's two-game totals in the Big 12 Tournament: 75 minutes, 22 points, 19 rebounds, 71-percent shooting.
“I'm really, really proud of Nicole,” Coale said. “She's really grown over the course of the year. Her presence impacted the game.”
It makes you wonder how much further along Griffin would be had Coale flipped the switch sooner. After all, Griffin was a 6-foot-6 high school all-American with skills.
Oh, well. Coale obviously was giving veteran players a chance, but now Griffin seems ready to step into the big shoes of Courtney Paris and Abi Olajuwon. The Sooners had five years of big-time post play, and Griffin appears capable of keeping the tradition strong.
Against A&M's big, rugged defenders, Griffin showed the ability to catch the ball and immediately attack the basket.
“She wants the ball,” said OU's Whitney Hand. “She wants to go score. You can draw up a play for her and she's going to be in the right spot.”
A scoring threat in the post “simplifies everything,” Coale said. Relieves defensive pressure off Robinson and the shooters. Creates foul shots. Offensive rebounds.
Griffin's development is huge not just for next week, but the next two years. Baylor's Brittney Griner isn't going anywhere. If the Sooners don't want to be pulverized by the Bears, they had to find a Goliath of their own.
Griffin is no Griner — not as athletic, not as strong, not as quick, heck, not as tall — but you can't surrender.
“That's what everybody in the league is having to do,” Blair said, “go find some taller kids that can play post if you want to try to win championships here during Griner's four-year run.
“Give Griffin a lot of credit. She's turning into a great, great freshman post player.”
The Sooners played A&M tough. They trailed just 43-41 early in the second half and got within 75-68 with 1:57 left in the game before the Aggies stood firm.
OU won't play anyone as good as A&M until the Sweet 16. Play like this, and the Sooners can make another deep March run.
The growth of Griffin, pun intended, is a major reason why.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.