COLUMBUS Ohio — If a program can only break through once, coach Sherri Coale’s Sooners did it at Purdue 13 years ago, advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time on the defending national champion Boilermakers’ home floor.
But it couldn’t have felt a whole lot better than it felt Monday night inside St. John Arena.
Down three starters and two team captains since the first week of December, the Sooners, in their 14th straight NCAA tournament, are somehow playing Cinderella after stopping UCLA 85-72.
All in one night, OU bucked the odds, gained revenge and proved more with less isn’t that impossible a concept.
The Sooners did it by getting an All-American performance from Aaryn Ellenberg, who’s been chasing greatness for a long time but caught it against the Bruins; by getting another huge game from Joanna McFarland, who must be playing her way into a professional career somewhere if she wants it; and by getting the X-factor performance from Sharane Campbell that Coale had foreshadowed only the day before. And, individual accolades aside, by playing murderously hard for 40 minutes on both ends of the court.
Play like that and losing’s just not an option. You can only get beat, but not very often.
Play like that and you might play more than one game at Chesapeake Energy Arena, where the Sooners meet Tennessee Sunday.
“Their belief, their resilience and their perseverance all came to a head tonight,” Coale said of her players. “They were in sync with one another, determined and absolutely refused to lose that game.”
Even as it ended, OU was building its lead. Even the Sooners could have relaxed, but they didn’t entertain the option.
Case in point, the score 75-62 with 2:21 remaining, when UCLA’s Allysia Brewer hit a shot, got fouled and missed the free throw, only for it to lead an offensive rebound and a Nirra Fields’ jumper: the rare four-point possession. That made it 75-66, but the Bruins never got closer.