NORMAN — Oklahoma topped Gonzaga 82-78 Thursday night at Lloyd Noble Center, earning a trip to the championship game of the Preseason WNIT, where it will meet No. 5 Louisville at 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon, also at Lloyd Noble Center.
A close and hard-fought game that went to the wire, it was nonetheless marred by 54 fouls, 75 free throw attempts and three players fouling out between the two teams on the court.
The NCAA has made it a point of officiating emphasis to clean up the game, seeking to eliminate the bumping, clutching and grabbing that has frequently taken place away from the ball, while also trying to make sure players play defense with their feet rather than their hands.
Nonetheless, the game called by the officiating crew of Kyle Bacon, Doug Knight and Tiffany Bird was still one for the ages.
By the numbers, the Sooners got the best of it, attempting 49 free throws to Gonzaga’s 26 and losing only Gioya Carter to fouls while the Bulldogs lost both Shaniqua Nilles and Lindsay Sherbert.
On the other hand, OU appeared to suffer more inexplicable whistles than did Gonzaga. Frequently, a call was made that either shocked Sooner coach Sherri Coale or horribly surprised her, the call not being the one she anticipated.
Asked if there was anything she could say about the way the game was officiated, all the Sooner coach could say was, “No.”
Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves watched his mouth, too.
“I can’t comment much on that,” he said, “but it’s frustrating … I don’t know if this is going to make our game better or not.”
Coale could, however, comment on how the Sooners were able to pull through such a flow-less marathon of a game.
“You have to stay focused and I thought we displayed a great deal of mental toughness and that was the piece that I was most proud of,” she said, “which is just as important as blocking or making threes or all that other stuff.”
OU was behind by one, two, three or four points from the 10:09 mark of the second half until 3:04 remained, when center Nicole Griffin grabbed Morgan Hook’s miss, put it back and was fouled by Stephanie Golden.
It created the game’s 14th tie, and OU did not trail again.
Aaryn Ellenberg, who led the Sooners with 21 points, hit her second field goal of the second half with 1:56 remaining to put OU up 80-78.
The Bulldogs followed with a costly turnover, one of only nine for the game. Back on the Sooners’ end, Kaylon Williams grabbed an Ellenberg miss and made one of two free throws after being fouled to make it a 3-point game.
The game was won when Gonzaga’s Haiden Palmer missed a 3-point try with 11 seconds remaining. Ellenberg grabbed that miss and added a final free throw.
Down the stretch, OU made the plays.
“I kept thinking to myself, we’ve got to get over this hump,” Ellenberg said. “It seemed like constantly we could not score and then we’d be down by one again. We just had to get over that hump, and when we did, that was where a lot of our energy came from.”
The Sooners got 14 points from Williams, 13 from Sharane Campbell, 12 from Griffin and 10 from Carter, who managed double figures in just 18 minutes of court time before fouling out.
The Bulldogs got 19 points from Palmer, 13 from Sherbert and 10 from Keani Albanez.
“I’m really proud of our team,” Coale said.
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