COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Oklahoma women entered Ohio State’s St. John Arena on Monday night the No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament’s Oklahoma City Regional. Their opponent, UCLA, entered the No. 3 seed.
Also, the Bruins had topped the Sooners the second game of the regular season at Lloyd Noble Center.
Yet, after OU’s stunning 85-72 upset that has it waiting to meet Tennessee at 3:35 p.m. on Sunday at Chesapeake Energy Arena, two themes coming out of the game were referenced and repeated.
One, as a matter of collective will, the players said they were simply not going to lose the game, that they were not done playing together.
“We knew it was all or nothing,” senior post Joanna McFarland said.
Two, that the kind of chemistry and appreciation for each other that drove their simple vow of refusing to lose became personified on the court in a way it had not previously.
The latter theme came directly from coach Sherri Coale.
“Tonight was so fitting because the way they are with one another off the floor was they way they played on the floor,” Coale said. “They want to be together and want to spend time together. We began (Sunday) by talking about having one more week together … and you could see it bubbling within them that they were going to make that happen.”
Added Coale, they were in sync with one another, determined and absolutely refused to lose that game.
How the game played out reinforced the concepts. Many players played very strong games.
Aaryn Ellenberg led with 27 points, McFarland played another career game with 20 points and 16 rebounds, Sharane Campbell made OU’s scoring punch a three-headed monster with 19 points
Additionally, point guard Morgan Hook finished with five assists against two turnovers and directed an offense that committed a season-low (by three) seven turnovers. And center Nicole Griffin, after struggling against Central Michigan, was clearly better, finishing with 10 points and four rebounds and hitting her free throws down the stretch.
Also, coming off the bench, Nicole Kornet and Jasmine Hartman maintained the same energy, awareness, and pace as the five starters.
“Immersion. Immersion in the moment,” is the way Coale described that consistency of focus. “Not being in the play that just happened and not being in the play that’s about to happen, but being in the moment.”
How much do the players like each other?
Well, there was a sweet moment after the game when Campbell was asked to describe McFarland.
“You can’t really put it into words … She’s just a loving teammate,” Campbell said. “There’s no other post player that I would want on my team more than Joanna. She’s the nicest, most aggressive post I know.”
As Campbell spoke, McFarland, seated to her right, moved by her teammate’s words, struggled to keep her emotions intact.
That kind of affection among teammates often makes for a better story than it ever affects the game being played on the court, field, pitch or diamond.
It wasn’t that way for OU on Monday. Instead, it all came together and the Sooners are back in the Sweet 16.
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