The Norman Transcript

March 25, 2011

A different team has been playing in this tournament


The Norman Transcript

DAYTON, Ohio — The NCAA bracket that becomes the Women’s College World Series has this thing about it that really isn’t very fair.

Though it seeds the top eight teams in the draw, it really seeds regionals. Like, if UCLA is the nation’s No. 1 team and the No. 1 seed in the entire bracket, but does not reach the WCWS, the team that made it out of UCLA’s regional inherits the No. 1 seed.

It’s not a good idea because any team can get hot for a weekend, maybe two, and reach the WCWS, but why should that team, maybe a loser of 25 games or more, be catapulted to the top of the draw just for what it’s done in the postseason?

Of course, the WCWS isn’t until June. This is March Madness, NCAA tournament time, and we’re here to talk about the Oklahoma women. Because, despite the occasional foolishness of WCWS seeding, Sooner basketball is that rare example of a team that really has become something different, better and truly new since the dance it began at the dance.

The 21st-ranked team in the nation and the No. 6 seed in the Dayton Regional, the Sooners are no longer No. 21 nor No. 6. Not really. Now, they’re among the last 16 standing and have become, in all ways that really matter, a No. 2 or 3 seed.

Because when Notre Dame (the actual No. 2 seed) and OU meet up at University of Dayton Arena at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, it won’t be the 11-loss Sooners meeting the Irish or the wildly inconsistent Sooners meeting the Irish or the team that just couldn’t figure it out, even against Colorado and Texas Tech, meeting the Irish.

It will be OU, the team that beat James Madison and Miami in Charlottesville, Va., taking on the Irish.

The Sooners are what they’ve become.

There is a fire and focus and, yes, and, you better believe it, an effectiveness that was not there before. There may have been a huge sense of purpose all season, but it was not in concert from player to player, nor was it matched up with the kind of confidence — or, perhaps a better word, fearlessness — OU has played with since learning of its NCAA path.

OU played a great game to beat Nebraska in Lincoln the day conference play began, but could not sustain that success. The Sooners played fantastic second halves, at home, against Baylor and Texas A&M, but those halves did not propel them through the rest of the conference loop. They blasted Texas from start to finish on the heels of an embarrassing loss to Connecticut, but could not maintain a new higher level of play.

Now, they have.

Proof isn’t always in the numbers, but it may be for OU.

Only once before had Whitney Hand ever scored 24 points in a game, but she scored 24 against James Madison and 27 against Miami even though, as OU coach Sherri Coale said of the pregame shootaround, that Hand “couldn’t even walk.”

Joanna McFarland had only once grabbed as many as 15 rebounds in a game, against Texas-Pan American way back on Nov. 26, but, even off the bench, she did it against both the Dukes and the Hurricanes in Charlottesville.

Also in Charlottesville, point guard Danielle Robinson dished 17 assists, the 11 against Miami was a new career high, while Carlee Roethlisberger, grabbed 20 rebounds, the 11 against Miami also a career high.

At long last, the Sooners have found themselves. Or found some very good impostors and become those impostors.

Whatever, it is who they are now.

And when Notre Dame steps on the floor Tuesday, it will have to beat those Sooners.

It won’t be easy.

Clay Horning 366-3526 cfhorning@normantranscript.com