Sooners embrace role as Final Four underdogs
Marcin Rutkowski, The Oklahoma Daily
OU was picked to finish fifth in the Big 12.
Now, it is one of the top four teams in the country.
Talk about defying the odds.
The women’s basketball team is headed to a consecutive NCAA Final Four in San Antonio this weekend without the All-Americans or injured sophomore guard Whitney Hand.
But the staggering odds have not distracted the Sooners from their goal, said Amanda Thompson, senior forward.
“We’ve known what we wanted all year,” Thompson said. “We’ve known what we’ve been fighting for and we’re not stopping.”
OU propelled itself into the Final Four last weekend with wins over Notre Dame and Kentucky.
But the hard work has just begun.
The next test for the Sooners lies in a West Coast powerhouse: Stanford.
Stanford was 35-1 this season — its only loss coming from a 12-point drop to No. 1 Connecticut. This was the closest margin of victory for the Huskies all season.
The keys to the Cardinal success are obvious, head coach Sherri Coale said.
“They’re big and smart and skilled,” Coale said.
The Cardinal traditionally has had strong players such as Candice Wiggins and Nicole Powell, but the force behind Stanford this year is senior center Jayne Appel.
Appel averages 13.6 points a game and isn’t even the leading scorer on the team.
The Sooners are acutely aware of the solid offense the Cardinal plays and the aspects of its game that are consistently strong, Thompson said.
“Throughout the years I have watched them and they’ve always been good at their execution of their offense, just playing hard at defense, and their post presence is unbelievable,” Thompson said.
The Sooners have their own weapons this year, but they sometimes tend to fall behind the big names like Appel, Connecticut’s Tina Charles or Baylor’s Brittney Griner.
Senior guard Nyeshia Stevenson has been red hot in the postseason, being named the Kansas City regional tournament MVP. She is averaging 14.1 points this season.
Thompson has been the thump of the Sooner heartbeat this season with her tenacity on defense and ability to make plays. She is averaging a double-double with 13.1 points and 10.6 rebounds.
Some might say the growth of these Sooner senior standouts would not have been possible without the sidelining injury of Hand, but Coale just can’t be sure.
“It’s always hard to say, I think (it’s) a guessing game,” Coale said. “I think they would have developed but maybe not in the way that they did necessarily. I think that is a testament to their intestinal fortitude.”
These players have grown leaps and bounds, but they are not done yet.
“Don’t settle. Don’t settle for what everyone thinks,” senior guard Nyeshia Stevenson said.
This year going into the Final Four the Sooners are underdogs. They join Baylor going in as the lowest seeds to the make the quartet at No. 3.
This was not the case with the Paris twins last year, but OU isn’t complaining.
“To me, honestly, I had never been the underdog, and coming in this year it feels good to rise up above other people’s standards,” Stevenson said.
This year’s group of rising underdogs will be put to the test at 6 p.m. Sunday when the Sooners tipoff against the Cardinal.