COLUMBUS, Ohio — Oklahoma has a great draw to get back home for the Sweet 16.
The No. 6 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional, the Sooners meet Central Michigan at 10:10 this morning inside St. John Arena, and if they win that one, they’ll get the winner of UCLA and Stetson on Monday.
The Bruins are a No. 3 seed and a heavy favorite that beat OU at Lloyd Noble Center Nov. 14. Still, the Sooners, who fell 86-80, believe they could have won that game.
Friday, though, Sooner coach Sherri Coale sought to make one thing clear: Don’t think for a second that OU is looking past Central Michigan, the 11th seed, the MAC tournament champion and a program still looking for its first postseason victory. And she didn’t sound like she was just saying it.
“They are a tough matchup for us. They’re big on the perimeter and there are mismatches all over the place,” Coale said. “There is nobody who is looking beyond (this) morning.”
The Chippewas have won five straight games and eight of 10 and are clearly playing their best basketball of the season. A team on a mission, they lost their chance at the Big Dance at the buzzer of the MAC championship game last season and were not the favorite to win it this season, yet here they are.
Still, more telling is Coale’s mention of “mismatches all over the place.”
The Chippewas start no player taller than 6-feet and have no player on the roster taller than 6-2. They do, however, start two guards who are both 6-feet tall, and one of them — Crystal Bradford — is averaging 15.5 points and an amazing 9.8 rebounds from the backcourt.
“They can get to the rim and penetrate well,” Sooner point guard Morgan Hook said. “We need to contain and contest and run the floor.”
The flip side of that last part, though, is the fact that Central Michigan wants to run the floor, too. The Chippewas are averaging 74.4 points per game, 1.9 more than OU’s 72.2.
“They’re very good in transition,” Coale said. “I’m impressed how they move from transition to their early offense … They think their ball is going into the basket. They are better defensively than people give them credit and get points in transition off steals.”
Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara even agrees with Coale about the backcourt matchup, but says OU has a real advantage inside with center Nicole Griffin and forward Joanna McFarland.
“Our guards are bigger, like Brandie Baker at the point, which presents a matchup problem for them” she said. “As much as the interior is a challenge for us, we’re going to have to do other things to utilize our strengths.”
What Central Michigan can’t claim is anything remotely close to the competition OU has faced. The Chippewas are the only team from the MAC in the NCAA tournament, while the Sooners are one of seven Big 12 programs to be dancing.
But that may not matter either.
Two teams will tip off today and only one can advance. Even as matchups are sure to influence the game, something more basic may decide it.
McFarland talked about that before the team left for Columbus.
“Tournament time is fun time,” she said. “You just kind of have to forget about everything and then just play with every ounce of your soul, everything you have left.”
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