By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript
COLUMBUS, Ohio — On selection Monday, as the Sooners watched from coach Sherri Coale’s east Norman den, a second roar followed the first, moments after Oklahoma’s name was finally called. It came when UCLA’s name was called.
The moment the Sooners learned it would probably be the Bruins waiting in the second round of the NCAA tournament, they were pleased.
Ever since Nov. 14, when UCLA beat OU 86-80 at Lloyd Noble Center, there’s been a sense of unfinished business with the Bruins.
Still, that doesn’t make it a great matchup when the two teams tip off at 6:15 tonight at St. John Arena.
“They had 28 offensive rebounds against us. They outplayed us in the physical aspects of the game,” OU point guard Morgan Hook said. “Its going to be cool to go out there and give them another shot.”
Hook was off by four on UCLA’s rebounding number. The Bruins had 24 offensive boards. But if that number doesn’t change and the Sooners can’t stand up to the Bruins’ physicality, Hook will probably be wrong about how cool it is to play a rematch, too.
UCLA coach Cori Close explained the way her team looks at things. It sounded like a manifesto on tough basketball.
“There’s an area about eight feet around the basket that’s called the war zone and there’s a reason we call it the war zone,” she said. “It’s a battle every night to control that area around the paint … We talk about containing dribble penetration, about being early out of the war zone, blocking cuts early out of the war zone. If players get touches there, there’s usually a foul or a basket scored.”
OU feels like it’s in a much better position to handle the physical onslaught UCLA’s sure to bring.
The first time around, senior forward Joanna McFarland had yet to become the walking and talking double-double she proved to be yet again against Central Michigan, with 18 points and 17 rebounds two days ago.
Also, since the UCLA game, the Sooners have run a Big 12 gauntlet that includes several physical teams.
“The biggest difference is the identity of our team,” Coale said. “We weren’t hard-fired at that time. We hadn’t been through all that we’ve been through … We’ve had our backs squarely against the wall repeatedly all season and we’ve learned how to fight our way out.”
Extreme physical play is still not the Sooners forte, but they do have an example to follow in McFarland.
“We’re a completely different group led by Jo … She’s the player most suited for a game like this on our roster,” Coale said. “We don’t run around and block people and clip them and jump on their back and crazy stuff. We want to move … Of all our guys, she’s the one most likely to get in the middle of it and mix it up.”
If Coale was referencing UCLA’s physical play with football actions not allowed on the basketball court, Close might beg to differ.
“Being physical to us means initiating contact in a legal way,” she said.
Also, the UCLA coach expects the Sooners to push back.
“They’re going to box us out,” Close said. “I’m telling our team, and then what? Are you tough enough to swim around it, to spin around it? There’s going to be walls put up. Then what?”
Considering UCLA’s previous success over OU and the fact Central Michigan grabbed 23 offensive rebounds against the Sooners on Saturday, do the Bruins have any reason to think OU will stand up to them today?
“You can’t say anything like that,” UCLA forward Allysia Brewer said. “Anything can happen.”
“Anything” might be better than what happened the first time around.
“I think it will be a completely different game,” McFarland said.
If she’s right and “completely different” means a different team wins, OU will be on its way to Oklahoma City for the Sweet 16.
Follow me @clayhorning
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