Griffin head over heels

March, 20, 2009
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Blake Griffin might be the fittest player in the country. He also might be the most acrobatic.

He needed to be to avoid a serious injury late Thursday night when Morgan State's Ameer Ali flipped him over his shoulder. Ali was ejected immediately as Griffin tucked his head and landed on his back. The gymnastic move saved the national player of the year favorite from landing on his neck as his back braced the fall.

"I tried to land on my feet, but it didn't work out too well," said Griffin after the No. 2 seeded Oklahoma Sooners beat the No. 15 Morgan State Bears 82-54 at the Sprint Arena.

"I'll be fine if we just give it time," said Griffin, who went to the sideline later in the game and stretched out his back. Griffin said the contact with Ali had been "pretty bad before the ref had to talk to him."

Ali's flip was reminiscent of Pitt's DeJuan Blair's hurling of Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet last month. But Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said there was a difference.

"I saw that one on TV, and that didn't look intentional," Capel said. "This looked intentional to me. Things like that shouldn't be in our game."

Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman said he told Ali, "You don't want to go out like that." He added, "What was I going to do, berate the kid right there? Wasn't going to do that. He was thrown out of the game. That's his punishment. Go to the locker room. I told the team in the huddle, let's the keep the game clean; we don't want to hurt anybody, nor do you want to get hurt. Play the game."

Capel said he saw the flip out of the corner of his eye and was ready to run onto the far side of the court before Griffin popped back up. He said he might hold Griffin out of Friday's practice in advance of Saturday's second-round game against Michigan. This isn't the first time someone has been chippy with Griffin. Capel said that Griffin was hit in the groin by USC and that a player at Utah did a "foot sweep" on him.

Capel said he's frustrated that plays like that happen throughout the game but sometimes it takes a repeated action for attention to be drawn to what's happening to Griffin.

"I've said it's difficult to officiate him, and you have to be physical to guard him," Capel said. But Griffin continues to keep his emotions in check and doesn't retaliate.

"He's smart and selfless and understands why they're doing it," Capel said. "They're doing it to get a rise out of him, but he's not going to get ejected because he knows it would hurt our team."

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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