By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The road to the Final Four is paved in so many things: from terrific coaching, to great guard play, to a dominating bench, to chemistry and a sense of purpose. Also, there is the unexpected contribution or, perhaps, the sudden emergence of a particular player.
The 22nd-ranked Oklahoma women are hoping those last two might apply to 6-foot-6 junior center Nicole Griffin.
Griffin was named Big 12 player of the week Monday, yet more telling and important than the honor are the reasons why.
In two victories last week — 74-68 Wednesday at Kansas State and 80-61 Sunday over Bedlam rival Oklahoma State — Griffin averaged 17 points and five rebounds. The Bedlam game stood above the Kansas State game.
Griffin put Cowgirl center Toni Young in horrible first-half foul trouble, scored a career-high 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting and 3-of-5 foul shooting, grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots.
All season Griffin has been a focus for coach Sherri Coale’s team, which wants to push the ball in transition and, upon arriving at the offensive end, wants Griffin to already be posting up her defender, assuming she hasn’t left that defender in the dust, on the way down the floor.
Griffin’s success this season had been sporadic. She scored a season-high 19 points against Arkansas and 18 against Cal-Riverside. Yet, since conference play began, 13 against both Texas Tech and Kansas State had been her high. She shattered that mark by eight points Sunday against the Pokes.
“Nicole has gone up against great post players all year and her confidence is just continually building because of that,” Coale said. “So, go right after Toni (Young), get her in foul trouble. Go right at her and make her defend you.”
Many have noticed the jump-hook shot that Griffin has developed from as far away as six or seven feet from the basket.
“I think it’s progressing and I’m continuing to work on it,” she said. “The closer I am to the basket, I don’t have to shoot it as hard. It’s more wrist than when you’re further away.”
Also, the only real defense of that shot is a help defender taking the ball from Griffin before she gets the shot off. But what Coale really liked about Griffin’s Bedlam performance was her unwillingness to settle for the jump-hook.
“She did a great job of putting the ball on the floor and laying out and not just settling for a jump-hook,” Coale said. “Her jump-hook is great and that’s a tough weapon, but what she really did (Sunday) was lay out and use her legs to get to the rim, or shooting a reverse, or getting underneath the defense.”
In hoops parlance, she took the ball strong to the hole.
OSU coach Jim Littell took notice of Griffin executing the transition game.
“We have to do a better job of guarding and not letting her set up so early,” he said.
Griffin wasn’t the only unusual suspect to come up with a big game against the Pokes. Sharane Campbell did, too, finishing with 15 points and a career-high-tying 12 rebounds.
Those are the kinds of performances the Sooners hope they can bank on going forward, at home against No. 24 Iowa State Thursday and Sunday at Kansas.
Follow me @clayhorning
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