Meltdown makes season Sooners enjoyed before it that much more impressive
Almost the whole game it was five Oklahoma players against five bigger and more athletic Notre Dame players, so how were they even on the same court?
It would have gone down easier had Jennie Baranczyk not forgotten her leading scorer, Madi Williams, saddled with two fouls, was watching from the bench for 80 percent of the second quarter as her team fell behind by 35.
It would have been better if Nydia Lampkin would have realized just because she had the ball in the paint, she did not have to shoot the ball from it, no chance of it going in, surrounded by defenders bigger than she.
Perhaps most of all, it would have been better had Notre Dame’s Dara Mabrey not knocked down back-to-back-to-back transition 3s in the opening minutes, pushing the Irish to a 22-7 advantage not even half the first-quarter gone, because it was those three shots that sent the Sooners from behind-and-needing-a-bucket into straight up panic, leading to crazy shots from the paint that were never going in and a coach forgetting her leading scorer remained on the bench as the game became irretrievable.
Thus, on the same night Notre Dame played its best and most explosive game of the season, Oklahoma melted down and played its worst … or its second worst, the Sooners losing their minds similarly to the way they lost them on Jan. 23 in Manhattan, the day Kansas State’s Ayoka Lee netted 61 and the Wildcats prevailed by 29.
Also, strangely, though hard to watch, hard to fathom and hard to endure, what transpired managed to turn what preceded it — 25 wins, 12 conference wins, a return to the NCAA tournament and a victory upon arrival — into a magic trick of more epic proportion.
Monday, inside Lloyd Noble Center, Notre Dame walloped OU 108-64.
The Irish were bigger and more athletic at every single position with the possible exception of whoever picked up freshman guard Kelbie Washington when the Norman High product came off the Sooner bench.
Though OU might not have been caught in an equivalent physical mismatch all season, it was still in several that were nearly so.
Three times against Baylor, which it beat two out of three. Twice against Texas, against which it split. And maybe five times, too, to lesser degrees, against Kansas State and Kansas, opponents OU beat three out of five.
How’d that happen?
Lots of ways.
Baranczyk filled her players with confidence indescribably high in comparison to previous seasons, when players frequently feared making mistakes more than losing.
The Sooners stole transition points all season long, something Sherri Coale’s squads used to do when Stacey Dales led the break and later when Maria Villarroel, the fastest player on the court, both benches and the arena, got out in front of it, but no so much otherwise but for Danielle Robinson doing it all herself.
Baranczyk’s Sooners found a way to do it sometimes without either of their spark plugs, Neveah Tot or Washington, touching the ball, making it happen on awareness, will and commitment.
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Too bad that when seasons are on the line, against an Irish squad propelled by its pedigree, it’s hard to be more committed than the team on the other bench.
Beyond stolen points, OU got to Monday mostly by Baranczyk and her staff unlocking more game than her players previously knew they had.
Taylor Robertson became more than a 3-point shooter, facilitating the break and finding an inside-the-arc game that made defending her harder as opponents had to cover more court.
Williams found the freedom to do about anything she wanted, finding success down low, from the mid-range and outside, too.
By season’s end, Monday aside, Liz Scott hardly missed down low and could hit top-of-the-key 3s, too. Even Lampkin found the range from deep, hitting a few 3s.
Skylan Vann became something like a sixth-man version of Williams, offering skills that made her dangerous no matter the distance between her and the basket.
If you can believe it, all but Lampkin may be back. Though Williams, Robertson and Ana Llanusa, maybe OU’s best player until a knee injury ended her season on Dec. 10 against BYU, are all seniors, all forewent senior day festivities, signaling they may use their COVID year to return.
OU may not get a whole lot bigger, but Llanusa should bring an athletic surge, while every single one of her teammates should come back anywhere from a little better to transformed.
“I’m just really thankful and blessed,” Baranczyk said, “that I get to coach them.”
In about seven months, she gets to do it again.
What’s not to look forward to?