By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript
Norman — The Sooners are anxious.
They want to play.
“It feels like we’ve been practicing all week,” senior forward and team captain Amanda Thompson said.
It feels that way because it is that way. Oklahoma completed it’s three-games-in-three-nights Big 12 tournament engagement a week ago, learned of its NCAA plans Monday night and began working toward tonight’s first-round NCAA Tournament game against South Dakota State on Tuesday.
But when things are going well, and they have been, breaks can quickly begin to feel too long.
“After watching all these (other NCAA Tournament) games,” Thompson said, “it just makes you want to go out there and compete and show what you can do. We’re kind of chomping at the bit, as coach Coale would say.”
On the other bench will be the Jackrabbits. They wouldn’t be here without winning the Summit League postseason championship game, yet they’re no stranger to March basketball, having played in last year’s Big Dance and the previous two WNITs.
The Jacks aren’t scared, but they know they’ve got a lot on their plate.
“I have no worries whatsoever,” SDSU coach Aaron Johnston deadpanned … before breaking into many things the Sooners bring to the table.
“They have a lot of size and athleticism inside. On the perimeter they have a lot of quickness. The point guard [Robinson] will certainly be one of the best we have played against and we have played against some good ones … They have such a strong tradition and the fans here know what it’s like to win and move on, so there are some obstacles in front of us.”
In the Sooners and Jacks, one has the quintessential small-conference-champ vs. big-conference-contender matchup.
What SDSU has to call upon is a winning history. It is a tribute to the Jacks (22-10) that, even in a down season, they found a way to return to the NCAA tournament. And given their history, it was not unecpected.
SDSU won 32 games last season, 23 the year before and 25 the year before that. The Jacks have won a lot of basketball games.
“Anytime you win,” Coale said, “you begin to learn to expect to win, and the more you do it, the more you expect it.”
What Coale and the Sooners (23-10) can counter with is the absolute depth of their schedule and the Big 12 Conference.
Three 10-loss teams own RPI ratings among the top 13 in the nation and every one of them in the Big 12.
The Sooners are No. 8, Oklahoma State is No. 12 and Texas is No. 13. Also, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Baylor are Nos. 4, 6 and 15 in the RPI.
“The thing I think our schedule has helped us with so much down the stretch is we just had to be focused on every single possession in every single game,” Coale said. “We couldn’t get ahead of ourselves or flop around about what happened on the previous play or game, because with our quality of competition, if we did that, it would be over … in a horrible, ugly way.”
The Jacks don’t have that kind of history, but they’ve seen Cinderella make her way to the ball many times in both the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments.
“The 14-seed taking down the three-seed is exciting and it gets us going that it can happen,” SDSU’s Maria Boever said. “We are the underdog, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to lose.”
Clay Horning 366-3526 firstname.lastname@example.org