Sooners heading different directions
For a moment, it felt like those heady days when both squads were in the top 10, filling the gym, challenging for championships, but that was so last week
Coach Porter Moser’s Sooner men are threatening to ruin one of the best Sooner basketball narratives in years and years.
Coach Jennie Baranczyk’s Sooner women are holding up their end of the bargain and, just maybe, their male counterparts could learn (or borrow) a thing or two from them.
Two Saturdays ago it was so promising.
The women, locked in a tight game at one-loss Kansas, trailed for a few third-quarter minutes and led by just four with 4:31 remaining, but turned it into a laugher, closing on an 18-8 run, good for an 82-68 victory.
A few minutes after that, the men enjoyed their season’s finest moment, turning an 11-point second-half deficit into a 79-66 victory over then-11th-ranked Iowa State, an effort that included a 21-3 run to establish control in the final minutes and nine straight made baskets, most of them easy, many set up by freshman point guard Bijan Cortes, to end the game.
After each, that Saturday evening, you could imagine something happening at Lloyd Noble Center that was once commonplace but has been far away for quite some time.
Do you realize that from 2000 to 2010, 11 seasons, the women were a No. 4 seed or better at the NCAA Tournament eight times and were a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in four of those eight? Or that the Sooner men, over the same span, were a No. 4 or better seven times and a No. 1 or 2 three times.
In 2002 the women were a No. 1 seed and the men a No. 2 and it happened again in 2009. Both of those seasons, both programs eclipsed 30 victories. In the first of them, both went to the Final Four.
Coach Sherri Coale’s women topped Duke and played Connecticut tight in the national championship game and coach Kelvin Sampson’s Sooners should have reached the title game, but fell to coach Mike Davis’ underdog Indiana Hoosiers, the coach he'd later replace in Bloomington prior to the 2006-07 season.
They were heady times.
Both teams filled the arena.
On Feb. 12, 2006, the women beat Baylor 81-77 in overtime in front of a standing room crowd of 12,112, almost 700 over capacity.
Only 15 days later, on the same court, the men stopped Oklahoma State 77-76 in front of 12,362.
It was a strange and memorable season.
The women were on their way to the first Big 12 Conference table run, men or women, going 16-0 in the regular season before winning three more in the league’s postseason tourney.
The Bedlam victory was not only the men’s fourth straight win, but their fourth straight by a single point, moving them to 20-6 before the dam broke and losses at Texas, to Nebraska at the Big 12 tourney and to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, in Jacksonville, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, ended their season.
Let’s hope Moser’s men are taking their dive now, after which they may rise up again.
Saturday was familiar story.
Moser’s Sooners, the second-most turnover prone team in the Big 12 to Oklahoma State, went almost six over its average, giving the ball away 20 times en route to a 59-58 overtime loss at TCU, a contest that included 1 of 17 shooting during one second-half stretch.
Turn it over just 15 times, or make 2 of 17 over that awful span and the victory would have been theirs, all ugliness forgiven because prevailing on the Big 12 road anywhere means not having to say you’re sorry.
The end of it was everything the Sooners (12-5, 2-3 Big 12) can’t have, especially from one of their leaders.
Tie game, 55 seconds left in OT, Elijah Harkless with the ball in the paint with enough room to shoot, he instead offered a bounce pass from in-the-paint to in-the-paint, trying to thread it between two defenders, its completion far more difficult than the shot he passed up.
Harkless then got lost defensively on the other end, allowing Charles O’Bannon a wide open 3 that wound up being the game winner because, after Harkless grabbed a quick bucket and TCUs Mike Miles missed the front end of a one-and-one, leaving OU a chance to win in the final 10 seconds, Harkless never got rid of the ball, met resistance at the right elbow and could only offer a falling-down, fall-away, flailing jumper that never had a chance.
“Everybody’s got to look at the truth,” Moser said during his postgame radio chat. “Collectively, the decision-making that we’re making with our shot selections and our turnovers … that eats at me.”
It’s been a wild turn of events.
The Sooner men have gone from a seeming defining-at-the-time breakthrough victory to a no-show loss at Texas, to a second-half implosion on the Horned Frogs’ court, one that included two points, total, from the 15:15 mark, when Jordan Goldwire’s jumper put them up seven points, until Goldwire’s layup with 4:30 remaining brought them within 44-42 with 4:06 remaining.
The women (15-2, 4-1) are rolling.
Saturday brought a 100-71 victory at home, also over TCU, the second time they’ve hit the century mark and the eighth they’ve broken 90, even after learning they’d be without staring point guard Kelbie Washington very close to tip time due to health “protocol,” which sounds a lot like COVID.
OU shot better than 50 percent and put four players in double figures — Madi Williams 21 (and 11 rebounds), Skylar Vann 20, Neveah Tot 16, Liz Scott 16 — for the 10th time this season, getting at least 20 from a single source for the 15th time, too.
“We’re starting to see the opportunities,” Baranczyk said of her high flying team.
The men have put four in double figures eight times and gotten 20 or more from a single source seven, but none of it came this past week against Texas and TCU.
This week, they get to come off the road, but only to face Kansas and Baylor.
The difference is a bunch of things, not least of which is the Big 12 women’s game is more wide open than the men’s.
Far more than that, though, one set of Sooners has confidence to burn and the other appears to have burned its up to come back and beat the Cyclones.
Perhaps the squad that has it could rent some of theirs to the squad that doesn’t.
It’s too bad.
For a while, Sooner basketball felt like it was going back in time in the best possible way.
Perhaps it still will.