It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
Not for Blake Griffin.
The Oklahoma phenom was destined for so much more. Cutting down the nets after defeating North Carolina was supposed to only be the beginning.
A National Championship, player of the year honors, the number one overall pick in the NBA entry draft, multiple championship rings and a trip to the NBA Hall of Fame, all things that seem to have been pre-ordained for Oklahoma’s poster-boy.
Blessed with other-worldly athleticism, and the desire of a champion, not even Thor himself was supposed to be able to derail the freight-train that is Blake Griffin.
(As a side note…for those who feel it necessary to question Griffin’s desire, I urge you to find footage of the Sooner’s loss to Texas; the game that Griffin sustained a concussion. It took three members of Jeff Capel’s staff to hold Griffin back from checking himself back into the game.)
The stage was set for what would have been the crowning moment in Griffin’s season.
First, out-duel Tyler Hansbrough in the Elite Eight. Then, after taking down last year’s player of the year, and one of college basketball’s greatest players, out-work Pitt’s man-child, DeJuan Blair, on the glass to solidify his status as the best big man in the land.
Well, Villanova destroyed the potential Final Four matchup the day before, so, at the least, thoroughly out-performing the ACC’s all-time leading scorer would have to suffice.
Despite being held scoreless for the first 11 and a half minutes of the game, Griffin outperformed Hansbrough in nearly ever facet of the game.
Griffin not only led all scorers and rebounders, he nearly tripled the production of his fellow first-team All-American.
Griffin finished with 23 points on 9-12 shooting, and hauled in 16 rebounds. Hansbrough, on the other hand, was non-existent with 8 points on 2-4 shooting, and 6 rebounds.
Griffin not only out-rebounded his entire team (16-10), but he nearly out-rebounded North Carolina’s starting five as well (16-18).
Hansbrough had high praise for Griffin after North Carolina advanced to their record setting 18th Final Four, and second Final Four in a row.
"One thing about Blake is I think he's tough down low to box out," Hansbrough said. "I think one thing about him is he's one of the best rebounders I've played against and so that was very tough. I think he gets a lot of stuff off offensive rebounds and his rebounding ability was something I think I'm not really used to seeing."
Hansbrough was correct in saying that he hadn’t seen anyone like Griffin, and may be fortunate to have avoided a potential matchup with Blair (the nation’s best offensive rebounder) in the Final Four.
Hansbrough, however, better get used to Griffin-quality-talent, as the NBA will prove to be no cake-walk.
But back to the present.
Despite Hansbrough’s futility against Griffin, the Tar Heels used a total team effort to defeat the Sooners 72-60; the Tar Heels have won every game in the tournament thus far by at least 12 points.
Ty Lawson lead the Heels with 19 points, Danny Green tallied 18 and Deon Thompson also hit double figures with 10 points.
North Carolina shot 51 percent from the field (26-51), and hit 15-16 free-throws.
A poor shooting night by Oklahoma, evident by the Sooners 2-19 effort from beyond the arc, was to much to overcome.
Willie Warren added 18 points, to go along with Griffin’s 23, and these two combined for 41 of Oklahoma’s 60 points. The Sooners were 24-54 from the field (44 percent), and converted on 10-16 free-throws.
Sensing that his team was having a poor shooting night, Griffin scored the Sooner’s last seven points of the half to go into the intermission down 32-23; this was Oklahoma’s lowest-scoring half of the season, and they scored all of their points from the foul-line and inside the paint.
The Tar Heels made their first six shots of the second half, and continued to hold off Oklahoma, even as Griffin threw down a thunderous one-handed alley-oop dunk.
Ty Lawson put the Heels up 53-38 with a momentum-busting three-pointer, and UNC never allowed Oklahoma to get within shouting distance.
"It's not hard to see how talented they are throughout the year. I've always been impressed with them," said Taylor Griffin, who scored four points for the Sooners. "They're as good as advertised, I think."
They also don’t care about personal accomplishments. This is a dangerous Tar Heel team, and they are just that...a team.
Roy Williams, who is heading to his seventh Final Four, summed up the mentality of the team after the game.
"If you say, Tyler, you're going to have eight points and seven rebounds but North Carolina is going to win, he's going to be the happiest guy in town."
That says a lot about the team if their All-American, who just happens to be one of the most heralded players in collegiate history, cares more about the wins than personal statistics.
"It's a different team," UNC’s Danny Green said. "It's a new year, a new day. It's a new game, and we know what our goals are."
Those goals involve cutting down the nets in Detroit, as well as Memphis.
Notes: Blake Griffin finished the tournament with 114 points and 60 rebounds, both are tournament highs.