Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
Coach Jennie Baranczyk's Sooners do it a different way to claim first conference hardware since 2009
OU comes from nowhere to claim Bedlam, share of Big 12 regular-season crown
Entering Saturday afternoon’s away Bedlam contest, after a terrible performance against Texas and a lackluster-at-best overtime survival against Kansas State, the whole idea for coach Jennie Baranczyk’s Oklahoma women had to be, finally, to simply play well again.
To run, assist, score and rebound like the team that once appeared odds-on to take the No. 1 seed into next week’s Big 12 tournament inside Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium.
Just about all of that didn’t happen.
Yet again, the Sooners were not themselves.
They were shooting well enough, but an impossible 16 first-half turnovers on top of horrendous foul trouble — Ana Llanusa, Liz Scott and Skylar Vann each had three — made them lucky to carry a six-point deficit into halftime.
All that and a knee-knocking collision that put team-leading-scorer Madi Williams on the bench for the final three quarters had to have an already 20-win Oklahoma State squad feeling certain it’s day had come.
It didn’t come.
Though OU failed to find what had been previously missing, it did something more impressive instead, choosing to work less on transition and perimeter play and more on pounding the ball inside.
That is, Baranczk and her team decided winning a different way would be required and winning a different way they did, walking out of Gallagher-Iba Arena with a soul-affirming 80-71 victory.
“Oh my gosh,” Baranczyk said, unprompted, upon joining Sooner play-by-play man Brian Brinkley for a postgame chat.
Hey everybody, it’s Clay. This one’s going out gratis. Seems the least I can do when a Sooner program makes some conference history for the first time in 14 years. Still, to get everything I do here in full, please consider a $6/month subscription, less if you pay for a whole year.
OU’s bigs — Scott (13; 6-of-8), Vann (13; 5-of-14) and Beatrice Culliton (11; 5-of-6) — combined to score 37 points on 16-of-28 shooting to keep the scoreboard moving, while Taylor Robertson eventually found her stroke in time to net a team-high 15, and once the Sooners took their first second-half lead — 50-48 on a Robertson-assisted Culleton layup with 2:53 remaining — they never gave it back.
“At halftime, we were just so focused on what we could do in the second half,” Robertson said. “Not worried … about everything in the past. We can’t change it anyway.”
What they changed was their fortune.
The victory sends OU to the conference tourney sporting a sparking overall record of 24-5 and a tied-for-the-best 14-4 mark in the conference.
Upon arrival, the Sooners will get the first night off, waiting for their 5 p.m. Friday opponent to announce itself.
No small thing, though Texas’ season sweep of the Red River rivalry handed it the tourney’s No. 1 seed, the two rivals’ identical conference marks mean OU’s officially a regular-season co-conference champion, giving the program its first conference crown of any kind since 2009.
The Sooners scored 41 second-half points, mostly relying on their half-court offense, which is hard to do.
Nine second-half turnovers meant the Sooners finished with 25 three days after committing a conference-season high 26 against the Wildcats, and still OU was right there with 21 assists after beginning the day No. 2 in the nation in the category at 20.8.
Neveah Tot got the helper on OU’s first three baskets of the third quarter, one each to Vann, Llanusa and Culleton to bring the Sooners within 47-45. Three possessions later, freshman guard Reyna Scott struck from 3 to tie it 48-48.
Robertson and Tot both finished with six assists, a combined two more than Oklahoma State managed the entire game.
This time a year ago, the Sooners were 22-7. Despite breaking even at the conference tourney, topping Kansas and falling to Baylor, they were nonetheless rewarded with an overall top-16 seed from the NCAA’s selection committee, the prize being opening-weekend Big Dance hosting duties.
That could still be in the offing but may require more work.
Entering Saturday, according to ESPN bracketoligist Charlie Creme, the Sooners had thus far earned a 5-seed and an opening-round matchup against UNLV on 4-seed UCLA’s home court. Creme also has the Cowgirls headed to Bloomington, Indiana an 8-seed.
Of course, Creme doesn’t have to be right.
Entering Saturday, RealTimeRPI.com had OU No. 15, the Washington Post’s RPI had OU No. 14 and the RPI at WarrenNolan.com had OU No. 13.
There was no postgame word on Williams’ status. Baranczyk said she would be praying for her and hoping the rest of Sooner Nation would do the same.
Not exactly a measuring stick of her prognosis, Williams could at least be seen standing at times along the Sooner bench during the game’s ESPN+ broadcast.
Additionally, she participated in the Sooners’ net-cutting ceremony upon their return to Lloyd Noble Center later Saturday evening.
Before finishing with Brinkley in Stillwater, Baranczyk had another short quote summarizing how her team pulled it all off.
“It took everybody,” she said.