NORMAN — For three straight seasons prior to this one, the Oklahoma women took full advantage of just a little time off the game court.
The thing about those seasons? The Sooners didn’t get the time until the Big 12 tournament concluded and they had a week off before NCAA tournament play began.
In 2010, a 10-loss bunch of Sooners reached the Final Four. In 2011, an 11-loss Sooner team managed to upset its way into the Sweet 16. A year ago, though OU won just one NCAA tournament game, it still played two of its best games of the season in the Big Dance, beating Michigan before losing to St. John’s.
This time around?
Because OU met Baylor on a Monday, Feb. 25, the Sooners had four whole days before a senior night meeting with Kansas. They’ve been going great guns ever since.
Heading into today’s 8:30 p.m. Big 12 tournament matchup with West Virginia at American Airlines Center in Dallas, the Sooners actually appear to be ahead of their typical end-of-season momentum turnaround.
“You have a chance to step back and kind of look at other things and say, ‘This is what it is and it’s real, and this is where we are,’” OU coach Sherri Coale said. “And I think there were some really solid decisions made by our team about committing to the process and making sure we finish this thing the right way.”
The Sooners topped Kansas 85-77 after getting those four days to consider their plight. A high-quality game from both teams, it was a testament to the conference’s strength, even as No. 1 Baylor remains the Big 12’s only ranked team.
Two days later, OU arrived at Texas Tech’s United Spirit Arena as the Lady Raiders still had hope of earning the second seed at the conference tourney. Instead, OU dropped Tech 77-73, stole third place in the conference for itself and bumped the Lady Raiders into fourth.
In the space of four days, last Saturday to Tuesday, when the rest of the conference concluded the regular season, OU’s place in it had been turned on its head. Yet more important were the four days leading into the stretch, four days OU used to collect itself and come back a better team.
“Right now, we’re playing for each other,” senior forward Joanna McFarland said. “And everybody is stepping up and doing things for the team. Everybody’s doing their part.”
The Sooners even took into account the possibility that losses to the Jayhawks and Lady Raiders might put them on the outside looking into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2000.
“It was make or break,” junior point guard Morgan Hook said. “We decided this is what we need to do and this is how we want to do it.”
OU’s sudden success has yielded still knew possibilities.
If the Sooners get past the Mountaineers tonight, they would play the winner of today’s quarterfinal game between Iowa State and Kansas at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. If they get through that game they’d likely get Baylor in Monday’s 7 p.m. championship game.
March to the final and it’s easy to paint OU a No. 4-seed when NCAA tournament bids are handed out. Somehow win it all and the Sooners would become the talk of the women’s game and perhaps a No. 3 seed.
It’s all out there, even if OU’s committed not to dwell on it.
“We can greatly impact the value of our seed, but is that for us to worry about and think about? Absolutely not,” Coale said. “We have to pay attention to the task at hand … We’re in a great position right now.”
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