Sooners must stop letting the game happen to them if they're to keep Dancing
In its return to the NCAA tourney, Oklahoma won big over Portland, but not without repeating much of what's been wrong over the past month
It happened again.
Second quarter, Sooners up six points when it began, Portland happy just to be in it after somehow going on a 12-4 run from the 3:49 mark to the 1:05 mark of the opening frame … it happened again.
It happened again like it’s happened so many times since the Sooners began losing their form Feb. 19 in Lawrence, Kansas, the first of six straight contests they were not close to the must-watch-TV they’d been so frequently prior.
From the moment 7:48 remained in the first half to the moment Ana Llanusa stopped the madness by hitting a 3-pointer 1:52 before the half, OU made 1 of 8 shots and turned the ball over five times.
At no point during that span did coach Jennie Baranczk decide she should get in the way of such hijinks and stop it, calling time out.
At no point did any Sooner appear overly concerned the game was getting away … like it did against Texas; like it did until overtime against Kansas State; like it did until Skylar Vann stole a one-point victory over hapless TCU at the Big 12 tournament; as it did the following day against Iowa State in the semifinal round.
Nope, Baranczyk and her feel-good-story-of-a-team appeared resigned to go wherever the game might take them.
Maybe they’d figure it out.
Maybe they wouldn’t.
C’est la vie.
Eventually, it worked out.
The Sooners opened their second straight trip to the NCAA tournament with their second straight first-round victory, a healthy 85-63 dispatch of the Pilots, fueled by reasonable 36.4 percent (8 of 22) 3-point shooting, a ridiculous 20 offensive rebounds that’s unlikely to be repeated, a co-game-high 14 points from Aubrey Joens off the bench that might be repeated but remains uncommon, hitting 19 of 24 from the free-throw line and a 47-to-30 rebounding advantage because Liz Scott (12) and Skylar Vann (11) combined to pull down 23.
OU won despite a few things, too.
It won despite Madi Williams (5 of 14), Llanusa (3 of 10) and Scott (3 of 9) shooting a combined 11 of 34, the whole team missing another bushel of layups just as it had limping its way into Los Angeles and waiting until its fourth possession of the third quarter to finally, for good, answer Portland’s challenge.
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It’s hard to know why, but avoidable, regrettable stuff just keeps happening to this team and not only is it a mystery why, it’s a mystery why it’s allowed to happen.
In the middle of that horrendous second-quarter span, though Baranczyk refused to call time, the game called one for her, a media break, in the middle of it.
But when you’re the better team and you’re letting the other team hang around by enduring five straight empty possessions, wouldn’t you maybe want to talk about it before the game handed you a break?
Or, after that media timeout’s gifted you and you turn it over four straight possessions anyway, wouldn’t you maybe want to talk things over again?
It’s disconcerting, because after blowing the chance to win the Big 12 regular-season crown outright with an entirely regrettable home-court performance against Texas and then having to go OT, still at home, to stop Kansas State, alarm bells should be ringing.
You should be grabbing hold of your team, not just between games but during them.
Sherri Coale was habitually late to call timeouts. Baranczyk is, too. But that doesn’t mean allowing your squad to play more bad minutes in huge contests is a good idea. It only means legendary hall of fame skippers have blind spots, too, as do other coaches who one day might join them.
Nor is it all about calling time.
It’s exerting some level of control when the games get bigger, when one loss is your whole season.
Like, if Neveah Tot’s not on the floor, Robertson should be the one bringing it up the court, because she’s not a turnover artist. If she can’t, probably Williams, but maybe not in a leg brace.
So maybe Tot’s got to play more than 25 minutes and maybe Robertson, who used to play 40 every night, needs to play more than 27.
Yes, you play really fast and it’s your identity, so don’t quit trying to run, but be more disciplined when the transition hoop’s not there and begin again with a sure hand.
OU’s depth is commendable, and of course Vann’s going to play as much as most of the starters, but that can’t mean everybody’s supposed to play every role, every possession.
Play that way in January, not March.
Of course, they won.
Robertson only got off five shots, but she made four and three were from distance and it was a big part of the Sooners finding the floor underneath them when things got bad.
Still, you can’t just keep giving those bad minutes away, yet OU’s been doing just that going on a month.
From nowhere, under their dang near too-good-to-be-true second-year coach, the Sooners are here, back in the Dance, maybe building toward something amazing the way Coale built something amazing.
But continuing to build requires banking what you’ve done. Respecting what you’ve already accomplished so much it becomes your new floor.
Yes, it's much ask to flip that switch between now and Monday, UCLA expecting to defend its court.
But it’s what’s required.
After too much bad basketball, it’s still the ticket forward.