Syracuse Psyched to Stifle Sooners in Sweet 16

By Virginia Breen

Mar 26, 2009 11:25am

ABC News On Campus reporter Matt Gelb blogs: The Syracuse men’s basketball team has played against plenty of formidable big  guys while trudging through the Big East schedule. But the Orange has yet to face an opponent like Oklahoma’s sure-to-be player of the year. “We haven’t seen anybody like Blake Griffin,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said before practice Tuesday. “But, we’ve played good teams and we’re as prepared as we can be for this.” Syracuse and Oklahoma meet Friday night in Memphis, Tenn., for the Sweet 16, unfamiliar territory recently for these two programs. For Syracuse, it’s the first time the team has advanced this far since 2004. And it’s been six years since Oklahoma was among the final 16 schools. Griffin has carried the Sooners all season long. Against Michigan in the second round, Griffin scored 33 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. “He’s one of the best in the country, if not the best in the country,” Syracuse center Arinze Onuaku said. “We’ve seen him play all year. Everyone’s seen him play all year. We just know from the beginning it will be a tough matchup.” Onuaku (6 foot 9, 275 pounds) and Rick Jackson (6 foot 9, 240 pounds) will shoulder the task of attempting to contain Griffin, who is listed at 6 foot 10, 251 pounds. Griffin has a penchant for getting banged up during games — he even drew the ire of a Morgan State player in the first round, which lead to a wrestling-style takedown. Boeheim will rely on his defense, the 2-3 zone, which has stifled its opponents in the NCAA Tournament so far. Syracuse shut down Arizona State’s All-American guard James Harden, limiting him to 10 points on 2-of-10 shooting. The Orange will be grateful if Griffin has troubles with the zone, too. For Boeheim, the game has two meanings. He is one win away from becoming the eighth coach to reach 800 career wins. But Boeheim, coaching in his 33rd year at SU, has downplayed the focus on his milestone; he says going up against Griffin and the rest of the Sooners is enough to worry about. “You can’t play one guy; you have to play the whole team and Oklahoma’s got a real well-balanced team,” Boeheim said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re aware of all the Oklahoma players and not just one guy.” Even with Griffin looming, the Syracuse players have their sights set higher. “In the beginning of the year, our goal was just to get into the tournament,” forward Paul Harris said. “But now, we’re here, we want to win it all.”

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