Oklahoma's Crocker shoots his way out of slump

March, 27, 2009
MEMPHIS -- Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel knew he'd get another All-America performance from forward Blake Griffin in Friday night's South Regional Sweet 16 game against No. 3 Syracuse.

But Capel had a feeling his team would also get a good outing from guard Tony Crocker, which hadn't happened for the No. 2-seeded Sooners in nearly a month.

"I had a feeling coming into this game that he was going to play well and he was going to shoot the basketball well," Capel said.

Capel's prediction proved prophetic on Oklahoma's very first possession in its 84-71 rout of the Orange at FedEx Forum.

Crocker, who had made only one of his past 15 3-point attempts, fired a 3-pointer from the top of the key -- barely over the outstretched arms of Syracuse guard Eric Devendorf -- and nailed it for a 3-0 lead.

"It meant a lot," Crocker said. "When you're struggling, after a while, making that first shot always makes it better. The zone gave us a lot of spots to have open shots, so we just tried to take advantage of that."

No Sooner took more advantage of the soft spots in the Orange's 2-3 zone than Crocker, who scored a career-high 28 points. The junior from San Antonio shot 6-for-11 on 3-pointers, after making only five in his previous nine games.

"When you're marked as a shooter, you have to keep shooting," Crocker said. "If you're missing, you've just got to think it off and just go to the next shot and keep going. You can't just not shoot when you're wide open."

Capel said he never considered benching Crocker because he had endured shooting slumps during his playing days at Duke.

"Not only played his position, but had slumps," Capel said. "So I know what it's like. I know what Tony was going through, and it wasn't because of lack of effort or he didn't want to. Crock's a kid who wants to play really well. He wants to be good."

With Crocker scoring from the perimeter again, Oklahoma is as good as it has been all season. The Orange were unable to focus entirely on Griffin, who scored 30 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Griffin increased his season rebound total to 488, the most by a Division I player since Houston's Akeem Olajuwon grabbed 500 in 1983-84.

"It makes our job so much easier when [Tony] is playing like he did today," Griffin said. "You know, they can't sink down in the zone, and they had to respect him all game long because he was hitting shots all game long. I think it takes our team to another level when he plays like he did today."

The Sooners moved a step closer to the Final Four. They'll play the winner of Friday night's South Regional semifinal between No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 4 seed Gonzaga. The winner of Sunday's game will go on to Detroit for the national semifinals.

"We've been pretty good in this tournament," Capel said. "Hopefully, we can be good one more time here in Memphis. And if we are pretty good, then we get a chance to be pretty good next weekend, too."

The Sooners will be better if Crocker is good again.



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