Sooners unafraid, pass first test
Though IUPUI did not cooperate, first-year coach Jennie Baranczyk's squad just kept going until the job was done
NOTE: I am helping my old newspaper cover the women’s NCAA tournament. Above are links to additional coverage of the game by The Transcript. Below is the column I wrote from Saturday’s game.
NORMAN — When Oklahoma and Notre Dame meet Monday, each with its season on the line, who wins is a great question.
The Irish will enter ranked No. 21 in the media-voted Associated Press Top 25, one spot in front of the Sooners. They’ll also enter No. 20 in the NCAA’s NET Rankings, 15 spots in front of the Sooners.
Still, somehow, the selection committee brought OU home for the first-two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, thereby declaring them one of the nation’s best 16 teams.
Had it not, rather than topping IUPUI 78-72 late Saturday night inside Lloyd Noble Center, the Sooners might have been left trying to pull the same trick inside the Irish’s Joyce Center, where they’d have had to take on the fans and the Jaguars, too.
Given Saturday, what can be known as first-year coach Jennie Baranczk’s squad goes about trying to reach the program’s first Sweet 16 since 2013?
It is unafraid of the moment, despite never living an NCAA tournament moment before Saturday night, at a time you can’t be afraid of the moment if you want to go anywhere.
It may not sound like much, but it was everything against IUPUI — Indiana University, Purdue University, Indianapolis if you were wondering — which refused to cooperate as a No. 13-seed is supposed to cooperate.
Because OU played well.
Maybe even very well.
Against a program the station of the Jaguars, the Sooners shouldn’t have had to play so well for much longer than a quarter or two, but they did and they did.
OU scored 22 points in transition, which is entirely its game. It shot 42.9 percent (27 of 63) from the field, which is pretty good and 34.8 percent (8 of 23) from 3-point land, which is not bad and committed 10 turnovers, which is fabulous.
But the Jags would not lie down.
“I think IUPUI is a little bit better than a 13-seed,” Barannczyk said. “They’re a very good basketball team. They’ve got great experience.”
More than that, they had Macee Williams, a 6-foot-2 lefty post, who plays bigger than her height, who might have reminded old school NBA fans inside the building of Bob Lanier and longtime Sooner fans of Abi Olajuwon, her senior year when she finally got her chance and exploded.
Williams may not have been Ayoka Lee, the Kansas State center who scorched the Sooners for 61 points in Manhattan, but she had everything required to be a serious problem and the fact she finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds was a tribute, not an indictment, of OU.
What it took to finally separate was a 12-0 third-quarter run that came with eight points from Taylor Robertson, three from Nydia Lampkin and a single free-throw from Kelbie Washington. It was 12 points in the space of seven possessions while OU’s defense stiffened.
It should have been it.
It should have been the final punch required to put away the pretender of a program No. 13 seeds are supposed to be.
A 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter became a four-point lead, but Robertson answered with a 3 that made it 70-63 with 3:14 remaining.
A basket from IUPUI’s Anna Montag followed, but the Sooners got consecutive stops before Neveah Tot assisted Madi Williams in transition and the lead was back to seven.
A jumper from Montag made it a five-point game again, but OU responded with more stops and soon time was out, the victory notched.
You could see it on the faces of Robertson and Williams, who joined Baranczyk for a postgame turn with the media.
They’d taken IUPUI’s best shots, but delivered more of their own.
They did not back into the program’s first NCAA Tournament victory since 2017.
They took it and won it.
“We knew we needed to keep playing.” Baranczyk said. “I thought when we really needed to get some stops, we got some.”
Hit shots, too.
Maybe not enough free throws, but it’s good to have something to work on.
Who knows what happens Monday, but OU’s in a better position to make it good because of how it won Saturday.