WACO, Texas — So big, so strong and so athletic at every position, the challenge ultimately posed by the No. 1 Baylor women is beyond the physical.
Playing with the top-ranked Lady Bears for 40 minutes requires the mental strength to get the worst of it physically the whole time yet come back for more with all of your focus and intensity.
Oklahoma lasted almost three-fourths of the game. That’s when a close enough contest became a laugher. A too-little, too-late Sooner rally at the end made for an 82-65 final.
Afterward, Sooner coach Sherri Coale spoke of all “the little things” a team must do to play with Baylor, yet the irony is “You have to be able to do all the big things to be in a position where the little things matter … They’re just too good.”
OU was doing everything it could to stay within 10 points and had climbed within nine when Aaryn Ellenberg made it 57-48 with 11:49 remaining.
Baylor turned around and scored on seven of its next eight possessions, while the Sooners got nothing on their next seven. OU missed layups and OU missed jumpers. Twice the Sooners picked up an offensive rebound. Both times they turned it over before getting off another shot.
The dam broke.
“We can score a lot of points in a short period of time,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “There’s some tremendous talent I get to coach out there … It wasn’t anything I called. It wasn’t any different defense. They missed shots and we made a lot of transition buckets.”
Where small favors are concerned, the Sooners managed to foul Griner out for only the second time in her career with 5:14 remaining. That was the biggest reason OU closed the game on a 15-7 run to make the final score appear more reasonable.
Without posting huge numbers, Griner remained the game’s most important player. She finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and eight blocked shots.
Her most important number was one she didn’t post but hugely influenced: OU’s 27.8 percent (20 of 72) shooting percentage that included an even more horrid 19.5 percent (9 of 46) clip from inside the 3-point arc.
“You don’t want to go away from your gameplan, and we’re a really good driving team,” senior forward Joanna McFarland said. “You don’t want to get away from it, but she does get a lot of blocks so it’s in your head.”
Also, occupying OU defensively, Griner had a lot to do with the Lady Bears’ amazing 60.3 percent (35 of 58) shooting.
The Sooners would have been completely lost without two huge games from McFarland, who finished with 12 points and career-high tying 16 rebounds and junior guard Aaryn Ellenberg, who canned 6 of 11 3-pointers on the way to 33 points.
Behind McFarland, OU remained competitive on the glass, where Baylor outrebonded the Sooners 44-40. Ellenberg kept the game from getting out of hand as long as it did.
Baylor, which outscored OU 62-18 in the paint, came in waves.
After Griner, the Lady Bears got 12 points from Odyssey Sims, 11 from Destiny Williams and 10 each from Brooklyn Pope, Kimetria Hayden and Jordan Madden.
Coale didn’t leave too upset.
“I thought we did some really, really good things,” she said.
Just not enough, nor for long enough, to challenge the No. 1 team in the country.
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