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January 13, 2009

Sooners handle the Horns

It was only fitting that Big Monday would be marked with a big performance inside the Lloyd Noble Center.

Sophomore sensation Blake Griffin answered the call with his 14th double-double of the season with 20 points and 10 rebounds to lead the No. 5-ranked Oklahoma Sooners to a convincing 78-63 victory over No. 11-ranked Texas.

Not only did the win end Oklahoma's six-game losing streak against Texas, but it propelled the Sooners to their best start (16-1, 2-0) since 1986, when the Sooners began the season 17-0.

The fans at Lloyd Noble Center got into the game early and the Sooners responded by sprinting out to a smooth 24-8 lead.

The Sooners never looked back as they led from start to finish.

"I thought the environment was tremendous," said third-year head coach Jeff Capel. "I thought the fans were great right from the beginning. It was the best feeling I've had since I have walked out of that tunnel to start the game and to look up and see that atmosphere.

"I thought our guys responded in a very positive manner to it."

Freshman guard Willie Warren did not connect from 3-point range, but he was more than efficient taking the ball to the basket. He led the Sooners backcourt with 17 points while Tony Crocker came up big with 16 points and nine rebounds.

Though the box score of Austin Johnson may not pop out as especially impressive, there may have been no performance more important to the Sooners dominating performance than Johnson's.

"I told A.J. I believe in him," coach Capel said, following his Sooners victory Monday night. "I really truly do. I am not surprised that he had the kind of game that he had. He controlled it throughout."

Whether it was controlling the tempo offensively or drawing the tough assignment of slowing down Texas star A.J. Abrams, Johnson came to play Monday night.

Abrams finished the game with 22 points, but was held to 3-for-15 (20.0%) from 3-point range, over 20-percent below his season average (41.3%).

"It's the OU-Texas rivalry," said A.J. Abrams following the game. "We just wanted to come out here and play well, and obviously we didn't. We didn't execute our game plan like we wanted to."

Texas forward Damion James came into Monday nights game averaging 14.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. The former Oklahoma signee, who asked to be released after the departure of former OU head coach Kelvin Sampson, finished the first half with no points and no rebounds after he was benched by head coach Rick Barnes.

Barnes said James being benched had nothing to do with his health and more to do with his effort.

James scored 12 points and grabbed three rebounds before fouling out with 2:51 remaining in the game.

Receiving his first court appearance since the regular season began, junior college transfer Juan Pattillo hit the court for a two minute stretch in the first half. The junior had been expected to redshirt until he surprised many by hitting the court Monday evening.

"Juan wanted to play and he was ready to play," said head coach Jeff Capel. "I look forward to getting him in practice. Juan can provide us energy, rebounding and defense."

After the Sooners quick start, Texas fought back within four at 54-50. Oklahoma responded with a 10-0 run over a six-minute span to put the game out of reach for good.

"Texas is a dangerous team," Blake Griffin said. "For us to get on them early and not lose; that is big. They kind of got close there at one point, but everybody did a great job of bearing down and getting stops on defense, coming down and hitting shots, and executing."

The Sooners (16-1, 2-0) next stop will be in College Station this weekend to face the Texas A&M Aggies (14-2, 0-1), who are fresh off a loss at Oklahoma State. Tipoff is scheduled for 1 PM CST on Saturday afternoon.

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