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'It gives us energy': OU basketball's season-best crowd supports Sooners' win over IUPUI in NCAA Tournament 1st round

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Jennie Baranczyk

OU women's basketball head coach Jennie Baranczyk during the Sooners' game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis on March 19.

For the first time in 10 years, March Madness came to Norman.

3,952 packed into the Lloyd Noble Center to watch No. 4-seeded Oklahoma (25-8) defeat No. 13-seeded Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis 78-72 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.

The energy in the building was high from the opening tip-off to the closing buzzer, helping the Sooners earn their first tournament win since 2017.

Back in 2010, OU’s last Final Four season, the Sooners averaged 7,681 fans for home games, good for seventh in the nation. But this season, OU has struggled to get fans into the building, ranking sixth in the Big 12 with an average attendance of 2,006.

It was different Saturday night, with the Sooners drawing their biggest crowd of the season. It was lower than those crowds from the 2010 season, a peak in OU women’s basketball under former head coach Sherri Coale. However, the Sooners are trending toward filling up the Lloyd Noble Center more often.

“Hosting can be such a key factor to making a successful tournament run,” Stacy Hansmeyer, an assistant under Coale from 2002-11, told The Daily on Saturday. “It’s a big advantage from several different standpoints. Players feel more comfortable, fans provide great energy, and as they always say, there is no place like home.”

Feeding off the home-court advantage, OU performed solidly on the offensive end. The Sooners shot 43 percent from the field, draining eight 3-pointers. Four Oklahoma players hit double figures, including seniors Taylor Robertson and Madi Williams, who led the Sooners in scoring with 22 and 21 points, respectively.

OU was also stout on defense, holding IUPUI to 36 percent shooting and 21 percent from 3-point range. The Jaguars’ Macee Williams, who led her team in both points and rebounds per game coming into Saturday, was held to just three second half points on 1-for-5 shooting after scoring 14 in the first half.

Robertson, who poured in half of OU’s 3-pointers with four, credited Sooners fans as a substantial factor in her team’s win.

“It's really cool to see a ton of people here because we haven't always been able to have that,” Robertson said postgame. “It's just really cool to be able to have that March Madness feeling in the air. You can just feel it in the crowd, and it's just a really cool feeling when you have so many people behind you.”

Williams, who shot a team-high 64 percent from the field, also mentioned the crowd as an element in the Sooners’ victory.

“We had people come out, and they were cheering,” Williams said. “They were up on their feet. They responded whenever things were going bad and when things were going good. This is great to see the Lloyd Noble Center start to fill up.”

The energy peaked in the third quarter. Coming out of a timeout with 5:18 left, Sooners head coach Jennie Baranczyk got in on the action, emphatically raising her hands to get OU fans on their feet.

The crowd responded, elevating the noise as Oklahoma forced an IUPUI miss, the Jaguars’ eighth straight of the third quarter. The Sooners later forced four more misses, holding IUPUI to an 0-for-12 start from the field in the second half. 

Later, the noise became more prominent. OU capped a 12-2 run to go up 14 points, with a 3-pointer from senior forward Nydia Lampkin, just her second 3-pointer this season. Sophomore guard Neveah Tot celebrated on the floor while the Sooners’ bench jumped and fist-pumped on the sideline.

It was symbolic of not just OU’s win, but what Baranczyk’s system is all about. In her style of play, everyone can get involved and have a moment, even if it’s someone who has shot four 3-point attempts all season.

To Williams, it was just another way the Sooners built their energy.

“That was great,” Williams said about Lampkin’s 3-pointer with a smile. “It gives us energy. That's one of the things we need to be able to keep playing with the intensity that we're playing at.”

When Baranczyk came to OU in April 2021, she took over a program that hadn’t made the NCAA Tournament in three seasons. Like all of her current players, she had not won a tournament game herself as a head coach, with most expecting her to need a couple of years to rebuild the program before taking the Sooners deep into March.

Not only has OU achieved a tournament appearance, but it has also won in it on its home floor, recording Baranczyk’s first tournament victory as a head coach. The Sooners’ 25th win on the season is their most since that Final Four season in 2010.

Now in the second round for the first time in five years, OU will look for its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2013 against No. 5-seeded Notre Dame (23-8) at 5 p.m. on Monday in Norman (ESPN2). Looking to exceed expectations further, Baranczyk just wants to focus on what’s next.

“We are just starting the tip of the iceberg,” Baranczyk said. “(I’m) really proud of this program… and I know that there's going to be more as we go. It's just part of who we are."

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