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Johnson adds scoring punch to Oklahoma backcourt

Monday, January 19, 2009 | 2:04 p.m. CST; updated 8:07 p.m. CST, Monday, January 19, 2009

Opposing coaches know Oklahoma's offense starts in the post with Blake Griffin, the Big 12 Conference's leading scorer.

But the perimeter players for the No. 6 Sooners have been making it difficult for opposing defenses to focus solely on Griffin, one of the leading candidates for player of the year.

Last week, senior point guard Austin Johnson earned Big 12 player of the week honors for the first time in his career. He scored 17 points per game on 57 percent shooting and made 11 assists in victories over Texas A&M and Texas.

"He had a great week, played with a lot of confidence, played with a lot of poise and scored the ball," Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said in Monday's Big 12 coaches teleconference. "That was really the difference. If he's doing that, that gives us a different dimension."

Johnson's main responsibility this season has been to direct the offense and get the ball to his teammates. He leads the conference with 3.2 assists for every turnover, putting him just ahead of Missouri's Zaire Taylor.

With the addition of freshman Willie Warren in the backcourt, Johnson and fellow guard Tony Crocker's scoring averages have gone down from last season. Warren has been named Big 12 rookie of the week four times and is a big reason the Sooners are 17-1 overall and 3-0 in conference play.

"He came here confident and that’s one of the big things," Capel said. "He’s certainly displayed that many times for us already this year."

Johnson is 15 assists away from his total for all of last season and averages 7.7 points per game. But with Griffin  in foul trouble on Saturday against Texas A&M, he led the Sooners to a 69-63 victory, scoring 10 of his team's final 13 points.

"I’ve said from day one I don’t think he gets as much credit as he deserves," Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said. "He just does so many things. He doesn’t turn the ball over. He doesn't rattle. He makes big shots."

Sadler and the Huskers will travel to Norman on Wednesday, and he knows his team is facing a difficult task. The Sooners have two of four road wins in the conference through 16 games and haven't lost at home all season.

"We’ve been challenged all year but not to the extent we’re fixing to be," Sadler said. "I’m afraid it’s going to be like everybody else has found out."

All five Oklahoma starters have scored 19 points in at least one game this season. Sadler said in terms of balance, the Sooners are one of the best teams in the conference in recent memory.

"I think Jeff Capel is one of the best out there right now," Sadler said. "He is a great person and a great coach and he’s put together a good basketball team."

In its only home game so far in conference play, Oklahoma dominated No. 14 Texas 78-63. The Longhorns, who are expected to challenge the Sooners for the Big 12 title, responded well with a 71-49 win at Texas Tech on Saturday.

 


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