NORMAN — Saturday night against Kansas, senior night for the Oklahoma women, the Sooners played an inspired game to turn back the Jayhawks 85-77.
Caught up in the festivities of the occasion and the inspirational and seemingly out-of-nowhere performance from Jasmine Hartman — 26 minutes, 18 points, 5 assists — the victory was still bigger than may have met the eye.
One, it stabilized an OU team that had lost four of five games and secured a 20th victory of the season.
Two, it made certain the Sooners (20-9, 10-7 Big 12) would finish conference play with a
Three, it should put to rest any NCAA tournament doubts that were beginning to sprout.
Nobody was talking about OU being in danger, but the Sooners did not want to top out at 19 regular-season victories and risk finishing only .500 in conference play, a risk they would have run had the Jayhawks walked out with a victory.
Tonight, 48 hours after the Sooners tipped off at Kansas, they’re back in action at Texas Tech (21-8, 11-6). Also tonight, they should find out if their senior night victory has legs or if it occurred in a vacuum.
OU topped Tech 65-55 in Norman Jan. 12. Unlike the Sooners, the Lady Raiders were never really on the national radar and have spent the season outside the top 25. Still, they’re sure to be noticed when NCAA tournament assignments are handed out.
In the all important Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) that carries great influence when Big Dance are determined, Texas Tech is No. 31 and OU is No. 33.
Also on the line are seeds at the Big 12 tournament, which begins Friday at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Tech is tied for second in the conference race with Iowa State, though the Cyclones, who finish their regular season against Oklahoma State tonight in Ames, hold the tiebreaker with two head-to-head victories.
Should it beat OU tonight and if OSU pulls an upset in Ames, Tech would be the No. 2 seed behind Baylor beginning Friday. If the Lady Raiders top the Sooners, they can do no worse than a No. 3 seed. Yet, if OU wins, Tech could fall into the fourth seed.
Of course, positions and seeds aside, tonight’s an opportunity for OU to put a couple wins together and establish an ascending trajectory into the most important part of the season.
Whatever momentum the Sooners built over the season was lost in a spate of late-season losses and underwhelming performances. But a win tonight would be two straight good ones at just the right time.
One final subplot?
Can Hartman do it again?
Against Kansas, she was a great story. Keep it up and OU might be a different team going forward.
“It does occur to me that I’m making my teammates a lot better,” Hartman said.
It’s the last game of the regular season, but there’s a lot of basketball still to play. How the Sooners fare could have a lot to do with what’s left.
Follow me @clayhorning