The ways Oklahoma women’s basketball are bound to change on the court under first-year coach Jennie Baranczyk remain unseen.
The Sooners have played an exhibition against Rogers State, one they won by 70 points, but that challenge isn’t in the same ballpark as the one OU faces Tuesday in its first game of the 2021-22 regular season at South Dakota, a program receiving real consideration in the media-voted AP Top 25 that would be 30th were the poll carried out.
Yet, in ways the program is bound to change beyond the court may already be coming into focus. For one, for the first time in some time, the roster is full.
A year ago, there were just 10 names on it and only nine were available, Ana Llanusa taking the year off for her injured body to recover. The year before that it was 12, the year before that it was 13, the year before that it was 12.
Baranczyk will begin with 14, including two voted onto the Big 12’s preseason all-conference team in Mady Williams, who can play any position on the court, 3-point specialist Taylor Robertson, as well as Llanusa, who arrived at OU in 2017 as the No. 8 guard prospect in the nation and who averaged 18.3 points as a sophomore. There is also junior guard Gabby Gregory who broke out a year ago to average 16.7 points and shoot 35.3 percent from 3-point land.
That should give the Sooners a strong offensive nucleus. Williams averaged 20 points, 5.1 rebounds and almost three assists a year ago. Robertson averaged 16.1 points, one season after averaging 19.1.
Who else might make a splash is a question mark, but a full roster offers candidates, from Kelbie Washington, who started at point guard against Rogers State just seven months after leading Norman High to a Class 6A state championship; to junior guard Kennady Tucker, who transferred in from North Carolina; to junior Nevaeh Tott, who started 21 games last season at the point; to forwards Skylar Vann and Liz Scott, who have experience in the program and a chance to make a new first impression on their new coach.
Baranczyk’s offensive system is yet to be seen, though it has been described.
“Our [personal] chemistry is really good, but on-court chemistry is challenging because … the way that our system is takes time and experience,” Baranczyk said. “There’s moments that I look at us and I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, we look really good,’ and then there’s other moments …
“In our offensive system, you kind of have to understand spacing and how you fit in it and then you kind of have to understand the spacing and how other people fit, and then there’s the element of reading defense. Sometimes that comes for some really fast and some, we might not get there until conference [play] starts.”
Williams admitted it hasn’t been easy.
“We’re growing on it and we’re getting better,” she said. “The more we play with each other, the better we’re getting.”
Llanusa, at least, is a big fan.
“It allows you to grow and think for yourself, which is ultimately going to make every single person grow,” she said. “Our freshmen, I can’t imagine how smart they’re going to be by their senior years, when they’ve had to make the decisions, make the plays and call the plays on their own.”
Baranczyk, hired to replace the retiring Sherri Coale after nine seasons at Drake, getting the Bulldogs into three NCAA Tournaments and three WNITs, seems to like where her players and team are starting.
“They’re amazing and we have a lot of potential,” she said. “We can play a lot of positions and I know we’re going to lag in some areas and we’re going to have to learn in some areas, I totally get that … but nobody’s going to have more fun than we are.
“We are really going to focus on getting better and we’re going to do that every single day and this team is all into that.”