Great day for Sooners, yet oversight persists
The men won (barely), the women won (beautifully), a great team and coach were honored … yet one banner (at least) is still missing at Lloyd Noble Center
By any measure, it was a terrific day for Sooner basketball.
The Oklahoma men may have to win out and win again at the conference tourney to reach the NCAA Tournament, an unlikely possibility for a team that’s 5-11 in Big 12 play, but they claimed Bedlam Saturday, topping Oklahoma State 66-62 inside Lloyd Noble Center.
They gave up a 14-point lead and needed five extra minutes to nail it down, but they won and that’s better than what they’ve been doing most of the last seven weeks.
In the women’s game that followed, the finish was so magnificent, it begs a question: can a single possession turn a team around?
Coach Jennie Baranczyk’s squad, ranked 20th, already the winner of 21 games against six losses upon entry, had knocked off TCU by 35 points days earlier, snapping a three-game skid. It was, though, fairly sloppy. The Horned Frogs are a bad team and while OU made shots, TCU missed them and the margin bloated.
It looked good on paper but it wouldn’t be near the lift beating Kansas State would be, the Wildcats having crushed OU by 29 in Manhattan on Jan. 23 behind an NCAA record 61 points from Ayoka Lee.
On Saturday, Baranczyk proved she could adjust, going full zone at K-State, sagging the middle defender within it in front of Lee, limiting her touches and her output to 13 points on 13 attempts, and still OU had to come through on its final possession to nab a 72-69 victory.
It did it on a Madi Williams penetration, her pass to an open Nydia Lampkin, who moments earlier had taken and made her first 3-point attempt of the season, who, as the defense approached, flipped it to Taylor Robertson in the left corner, who had just enough room to get the shot off and swished it, buzzer sounding in flight.
OU had struggled mightily on the offensive end, but 13 points over its last seven possessions, offering the best one last, makes one wonder if the the team might regain the entirety of the form that had it 9-2 in the conference and No. 8 on the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s top-16 list a short time ago.
All of that, and during halftime of the women’s game, time stopped for the 2001-02 women’s squad and its coach, Sherri Coale, who welcomed her old charges back, led by the great Stacey Dales, and was honored with a rafters banner marking her historic tenure leading the program.
You can find the story of that team right now at SoonerSports.com. You’ll know you’ve gotten there when you see the headline, “THE TEAM THAT STARTED IT ALL.”
If only that were accurate.
It’s not, because the team that really started it all preceded the ’01-’02 bunch by two seasons.
That team, too, was led by Dales, but it was led just as much or more by Phylesha Whaley, the player who made Coale’s emergent program possible, the only player to play all 40 minutes in the most important and greatest victory in program history, the round-of-32 contest on defending national champion Purdue’s home court in West Lafayette, Indiana, on March 20, 2000, when OU came from 12 points down at the half to prevail 76-74.
Talking to media after Baranczyk’s squad closed in style, Coale wasn’t asked to agree that none of it happens without Whaley or the effort that brought down the defending champs, ushering the program into the first of nine Sweet 16s under her direction, but it sure seemed like she might have if it had been the question.
“As much as that 2002 team and their road to the national championship game provided this foundation on which to grow and build for years to come,” Coale said, “they came to be because of a player from Slaton, Texas, named Phylesha Whaley … One of the toughest competitors I’ve ever coached.
“She was skilled, she was a workhorse, she was talented, but she was never the biggest, the fastest or the strongest. She just had a will to win that permeated our team. She is the source of the belief. She’s the one that bought in and said, ‘This is how we’re going to do it.’”
Though many might put Dales in the second spot, the only player in program history that’s clearly in front of Whaley is Courtney Paris.
Whaley’s the No. 3 scorer in program history, though the player in front of her, Aaryn Ellenberg, played in 34 more games.
There have been five 20-point-per-game seasons in program history. Molly McGuire has one, Paris two and Whaley two. The season between Whaley’s two, she averaged 19.6.
“Stacey Dales came to play with Phylesha Whaley and Caton Hill came to play with Stacey Dales and that’s how it goes,” Coale said.
Coale recalled not only the night her team beat the Boilermakers, but getting there, too.
“We drove into town and there were billboards that said, you know, ‘Women’s NCAA Tournament,’” she said. “We’re stopping the bus, getting out of the bus and taking pictures under billboards.
“We’re like little kids that got to go to go to the Big House in Oklahoma City, playing in the state tournament for the first time.”
Just as will happen this season, the top-16 overall seeds got the chance to reach the Sweet 16 on their home court that season. Also, that season, the Sooners were the only out-of-town squad to win their way off their opponents’ campus.
Their reward was a date with unbeaten Connecticut in Richmond, Virginia, a contest Connecticut claimed 102-80.
Still, the door had been opened.
Understandably, they don’t throw halftime ceremonies for Sweet 16 teams.
They’re not remembered by the masses as well or as fondly as the groups that went two, three or four wins further. Still, perhaps a day will come one longstanding wrong gets righted.
Paris’ No. 3 is in the rafters. So is Dales’ No. 21. Though Coale wore no number, she now has a banner up there, too. When does Phylesha Whaley’s No. 34 get lifted. It’s years and years overdue.
Heck, plan the ceremony and maybe the whole team shows up, the one that really started it all.