OU, Irish to play Elite Eight
The last time the Sooners faced a second-seeded Notre Dame team, OU was riding high.
“I think this was one of those games that can really grow the sport of women’s college basketball,” Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said after the Sooners upended the Fighting Irish, 77-72, for an Elite Eight berth.
OU was on the winning end of last year’s overtime battle, so the sixth-seeded Sooners have some big shoes to fill.
Just like last year, the Sooners enter Saturday afternoon’s game against the Fighting Irish as underdogs. This is the second straight year Notre Dame has been a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Last season, the Sooners were a veteran team fresh off the loss of the All-American Paris twins. This year’s team still has All-American guard Danielle Robinson handling the point in her last year, but the team is relatively young.
OU has the talent this year, but the Sooners have struggled to put the pieces together as a unit. The Sooners’ struggles this season were evidenced by blowout losses to Baylor and Connecticut.
“It was so bad that it just didn’t seem real,” senior forward Carlee Roethlisberger said after the 86-45 loss to UConn on Feb. 14.
The Sooners had an up-and-down regular season, going 4-4 on the road and 6-2 at home during conference play, but once OU hit the postseason, the team decided to wipe the slate clean, Robinson said before the Big 12 tournament.
So far in this year’s Big Dance, OU has done just that.
In the first round against James Madison, the Sooners overcame 22 rebounds to defeat the nation’s second-leading scorer, Dawn Evans.
Then in the second round, Miami (Fla.) presented its own problems for OU, but the Sooners stalled a last-minute Hurricane rally to win, 83-78.
OU has been taking it one possession at a time, something Coale talked about after last year’s game.
“We have had to play every possession all year long. We haven’t been good enough to take any off,” Coale said.
One Sooner taking that to heart is sophomore guard Whitney Hand, who spent last season holding towels on the bench with an ACL tear.
Talk about making up for lost time — Hand is averaging 24.5 points per game in this year’s tournament on 17-of-29 shooting from the field.
This is a far cry from the mid-conference slump Hand suffered — scoring a combined 13 points against Connecticut, Missouri and Texas A&M — that caused the team leader to question her own role on the team.
“I mean, you honestly are like, ‘OK, well, what did I mess up? Well, crap, is it my fault?’” Hand said. “You start going through that.”
So much for that thinking. The Sooners looked as confident as they have all season against Miami on Tuesday.
Last year, Coale said that the tournament has the ability to boost a team’s confidence and teach a player a lot about herself.
“As far as this stage and this tournament and what it can do for you, most of the success in life is about being confident and about believing you can do things, and the really superior part of athletics is that it can teach you that if you let it,” Coale said. “It teaches you that confidence is something you give yourself; you earn it and then you give it to yourself and then you accept it.”
OU will put that confidence boost on the line against Notre Dame at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, hoping for a similar lesson learned.