Bench may make big season bigger
Sooner women have firepower to burn no matter who's on the floor, starters or reserves … and in Morgantown, coach Porter Moser's squad finally wins again
NORMAN — Have you heard of Kaley Perkins? I don’t think I had until a couple of weeks ago. Seems like I should have.
I can’t be alone.
Though I’ve been chronicling the fortunes of first-year coach Jennie Baranczyk’s Oklahoma women all season long, 16 games into it, Perkins hadn’t played a minute in eight of them, played 4 minutes or less in seven of the eight she did play and 26 against Wichita State on a day the Sooners where shorthanded and I wasn’t in the arena.
Easy to miss.
Well, Wednesday night inside Lloyd Noble Center, Baranczyk skippering her first Bedlam game, the Sooners rebounded from the throttling they suffered last Saturday at Kansas State, where 6-foot-6 center Ayoka Lee lit them up for an NCAA record 61 points, cruising past Oklahoma State 84-58.
The contest as close as six points, 42-36, until OU netted its first second-half bucket almost four minutes into the third quarter, the 18th-ranked Sooners picked up one of those solid bounce-back wins every coach roots for after being shellacked.
Though Baranczyk finally has everybody available again, Perkins, the freshman from Houston’s Langham Creek High School, has earned her way into the rotation nonetheless, playing 16 minutes against TCU, 12 against West Virginia, 9 against Kansas State and 13 against the Cowgirls, turning her time into eight points on 3 of 4 shooting, 2 of 3 from beyond the 3-point arc.
It may not seem like much but Perkins hit 1 of 2 from distance against Central Arkansas, 1 of 3 against Eastern Michigan, 2 of 5 against Wichita State, 3 of 3 against TCU, 2 of 4 against West Virginia and 1 of 1 at Kansas State.
Add that to her Bedlam bounty and she’s made 13 of 24 from beyond the 3-point arc, which puts her nowhere among NCAA leaders because she hasn’t put up enough shots to qualify.
Yet, had she and her 54.2 percentage held, it would lead the nation, a few spots in front of teammate Taylor Robertson, who began Wednesday atop the list, having hit 49.1 percent (81 of 165), yet canned just 1 of 5 against the Cowgirls, dropping her rate to 48.2.
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It means OU has two big-time outside threats; far more than that it means the 18th-ranked Sooners (17-3, 5-2 Big 12), already vastly improved, have a wildfire bench, too, bound to make them even more vastly improved.
The first 10 games of the season it was the Madi Williams, Ana Llanusa and Robertson show.
After Llanusa went down to a season-ending knee injury, more fell upon Williams and Robertson, while Skylar Vann, still coming off the bench, has received more minutes and opportunities, enough to average 15.4 points since.
Also, about the time Llanusa had to exit, freshman point guard Kelbie Washington began coming on, a state of affairs that hit a wall when she missed three games in coronavirus protocol.
Wednesday, though, she was back, accumulating an amazing +40 over 23 minutes, finishing with six points, six assists and four steals.
A starter in every game she’d played until Wednesday, Washington may be headed back to the starting five, though it hardly matters because her return means she or Nevaeh Tot, who’s been terrific, is available to bolster the bench, which has suddenly become terrific, too.
“Our bench is key,” Baranczyk said. “Especially … the way we play … being able to bring such sparks off the bench, I think is huge for us.”
It means the Sooner coach can start Williams and Robertson, who are averaging 18.1 and 17.9 points, respectively, with Liz Scott in the middle, who’s averaging 6.9 but broke out with a game- and career-high 22 against the Cowgirls; alongside Kennady Tucker, who’s been steady since taking Llanusa’s spot and Washington or Tot, dealer’s choice, at the point. Llanusa is missed, but it’s still a powerful first five.
Behind that is Vann, who’s been in double figures in 8 of 11 games, netting 19 or more four times, who finished with 12 on 5 of 9 shooting against OSU; Gabby Gregory, who’s back in the fold, inching her way back to full strength after starting and averaging 16.6 points a year ago; Washington or Tot, whoever doesn’t start, helping to facilitate from the point … and Perkins, getting her first real chance to play, who’s draining 3-pointers like a fifth-year senior, hardly a wide-eyed freshman who just earned her way into the rotation.
“I expect it to go in,” Baranczyk said, “every time she shoots it.”
Already, the Sooners may have been the nation’s most resurgent program. Now they have a killer bench, too.
More than before, they remain a team worth watching.
Also Wednesday the Sooner men ended their four-game losing streak at West Virginia, stopping the Mountaineers 72-62.
You may have noticed senior center Tanner Groves appeared to wake up last Saturday against Baylor only after taking a knee to the head from Matthew Mayer.
He took that fire into Morgantown, too, and finally turned in another big game, finishing with 21 points on 9 of 11 shooting and six rebounds.
Groves’ teammate, who’d arguably been suffering a deeper slump, Elijah Harkless, did not break out but did not hurt his team either. That’s because coach Porter Moser did not start him — going with Jacob Groves instead — and played him just four minutes, total.
The Sooners even broke 70 points again. Glory.
OU (13-7, 3-5 Big 12), still turned it over 17 times, but maybe that’s a good thing, leaving the Sooners a big pothole still to fix as they prepare to meet No. 1 Auburn, at Auburn, on Saturday, part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.