Sooners must overcome 'heavyiness'
First-year coach Jennie Baranczyk candid about the weight of sudden expectation
Fantastic regular season.
Horrendous Saturday afternoon.
Both apply to the Oklahoma women as they look toward the postseason.
Where should the focus be?
Are we to be impressed first-year Sooner coach Jennie Baranczyk’s squadron is likely to receive a No. 4-6 seed at the NCAA tournament, depending upon their success or lack of it at the upcoming Big 12 tournament or should we lament its giving back the opportunity to be a No. 2 or 3 seed, perhaps, if it had only held serve at home.
Are we now to fear quick exits in both aforementioned brackets given OU’s mini-implosion the second half of its conference season, a mini-implosion that now includes two awful home-court losses, one to Texas Tech (11-17, 4-13 Big 12) on Feb. 16, in which OU (23-7, 12-6) scored 50 second-half points, yet managed to be outscored by 10, the difference in the game and then Saturday’s 73-67 failure against Kansas (20-8, 11-7), a fine team that’s headed toward the Big Dance, too, but not one that’s spent the regular season in the Sooners’ league.
OU owns three victories over top-10 teams and two over a top-five team, having topped Baylor twice and Texas once, yet unless it manages to beat Baylor a third time, it’s unlikely to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, a position it was holding onto as it took the court against Kansas, having nabbed the final spot in the selection committee’s top-16 issued earlier in the week.
Now, who knows.
On the bright side, the Sooners are unlikely to play the particularly awful brand of basketball they played against the Jayhawks again, because it’s unlikely Madi Williams will ever go 4 of 17 from the field again and it’s unlikely Taylor Robertson will go 2 of 9 from 3-point land again, especially when the majority of her looks were the kind of open, in-rhythm chances she probably canned 75 percent of the time prior to Saturday.
The Sooners finished shooting 31.6 percent (25 of 79) against the Jayhawks, a figure that might not be repeated the length of Baranczyk’s tenure, even were it to last the same 25 years her predecessor’s tenure lasted.
But that was only one of the problems.
Others, meanwhile, have become familiar.
OU averages 19 turnovers per outing, a number tempered by the pace it plays and the high number of possessions that pace generates, and still that’s no excuse for entering Saturday No. 313 of 348 Division I programs in the category.
The Sooners have also quit scoring with any kind of consistency. Though they entered Saturday ranked third in the nation at 84.2 points per game, they’ve been in the 60s now five times in their last 12 — four of them losses — after being in the 60s (or below) in none of their first 18 games.
They have also, suddenly, began offering the clunkiest of quarters. In their last two second quarters, they’ve been outscored 56-25, made 8 of 35 shots and committed 14 turnovers.
More odd, Baranczyk has called the grand total of one timeout between those two horrible quarters, refusing to get in the way of runs that are killing her team.
“I think at the beginning of the year, you know, it’s fun, nobody expects anything from us, 'Let’s just go play' …” Baranczyk said. “Then, all of a sudden, it’s like ‘Oh, my gosh, we’re good.’ — and we are good — so now there’s this expectation in game planning and there’s, ‘OK, how do [we] execute? How do [we] do all this …
“And I think we’re trying to manage through a lot of that, to get back to realizing we’re really good when we’re just playing.”
One can argue losing to Kansas did OU a small favor. Had the Sooners won, they could have faced Kansas State at the conference tournament Friday, a team that beat them by 29 points at home and lost by three in Norman. Instead, they’ll face Kansas again, which they beat by 14 in Lawrence and never should have lost to at home.
Win that one and it ought to be Baylor waiting, and though beating the Lady Bears a third time may be fairly unlikely — Baylor has ripped off nine straight wins entering Sunday’s regular-season finale against Texas Tech — it should at least offer the chance, however slim, for OU to win its way back home for the first two rounds of the next tournament.
“I’m hoping that we can find [our stride] when we go into the Big 12 tournament,” Baranczyk said. “Can we go back to that kind of fearlessness, letting it fly, having fun playing … totally a unit playing together without any of the heaviness, because I think [we’ve been] carrying too much into the games instead of just playing.”
It’s a fine wish.
It’s a tribute to a terrific and resurgent regular season such wishes are even available.
Of course, that can be celebrated later, when the entire campaign's concluded.
In the meantime, Baranczyk and her team must find themselves pronto if they’re to cash in on the promise they have nobody but themselves to blame for creating.