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OU basketball: Gabby Gregory 'getting back to normal,' injured Ana Llanusa assumes coaching role as Sooners welcome Iowa State

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Gabby Gregory

Sophomore guard Gabby Gregory during the game against TCU on Mar. 4.

In the last seven days, the Sooners ended non-conference play with a 89-67 home victory against Wichita State and opened Big 12 Conference play with a 97-91 road victory against Texas Tech.

Just one day before its Big 12 home opener against No. 12 Iowa State, Oklahoma head coach Jennie Baranczyk and senior forward Madi Williams previewed the matchup with the Cyclones.

Here’s the best of what they had to say:

Gabby Gregory’s return

Oklahoma received great news Sunday before the Texas Tech game, as junior guard Gabby Gregory was available to play for the first time all season.

The Tulsa native was held out of game action earlier this season due to an undisclosed injury. While Gregory didn’t star in her debut, shooting just 0-for-3 from the field, her potential on the team is clear.

In 2020-21, Gregory averaged 16.6 points per game while making 35 percent of her triples. With second-leading scorer Ana Llanusa out for the year, the Sooners need Gregory’s scoring now more than ever.

“Gabby's getting back to normal,” Baranczyk said. “It was really fun just to be able to see her on the floor and get her legs under her. She'll really get to start to do some things, but I think the mark of what makes it so special is when you look at the bench.

“Every time she touched the ball, everyone's standing up, everyone's cheering, because they know it's been a little bit of a journey and not an easy one. But, she's also been engaged the whole time. That's what's going to make this a little bit less seamless or more seamless.”

“Coach Ana” Llanusa

Llanusa’s career has seen many setbacks, including missing 17 total games in her first two seasons with various injuries and missing the entirety of 2020-21  with a back injury. Unfortunately, her most recent setback brought her season to an abrupt end.

In an interview with 107.7 The Franchise on Dec. 31, Baranczyk revealed Llanusa’s leg injury suffered against BYU on Dec. 10 would keep her out for the rest of the season. It’s a tough blow, not just for Llanusa, but for an OU team that relies on her ability and leadership.

Though she’s out for the season, Llanusa is still finding ways to contribute. She’s taken on an unofficial player-coach role in recent weeks, giving guidance and insight to her teammates. Llanusa’s new role allows her to stay engaged with the team. As Baranczyk noted, Llanusa helps her with player feedback, defensive rotations and more.

“We call her coach Ana now,” said Williams, who has played with Llanusa at OU since the 2018-19 season. “And she’s been able to play that role pretty well for us. Ana brings great insight just from her seniority, and her progression over the years has helped her be able to give her perspective to anybody that needs it.”

Opening stretch of Big 12 play

The Sooners began Big 12 play with their victory against Texas Tech in Lubbock on Sunday. Williams led OU with 24 points as the Sooners shot 47 percent from the field en route to a ninth straight victory. Williams said she always makes sure to bring a different excitement to conference play.

“For me personally, conference play is just a different type of energy for me,” Williams said. “I’m able to bring that to my team. I think that they’re receiving it well and are like ‘It’s conference play… it’s time to go, it’s time to compete at another level.’ And this is where we prepare to play our best basketball in March. We’re locked in.”

For Baranczyk, Big 12 play requires a different mindset and mentality as OU prepares to climb to the top of the conference.

“They’re all big (games), every single one from here on out,” Baranczyk said. “I think we’d be kidding ourselves if we said ‘Oh, it’s just another game.’ We’re still going to take it one game at a time, but we’re still going to put it all on the floor.”

Sooners ranked for first time since 2017-18

On Monday, the Sooners (12-1, 1-0 in Big 12) were featured in the AP Top 25 Poll for the first time since the 2017-18 season. Oklahoma had been receiving votes for the past few weeks before finally debuting at No. 23.

The AP ranking comes after nine straight victories for the Sooners. Oklahoma has a ranked win against No. 16 BYU and its only loss came in a close battle against then No. 9 Oregon.

“I think a lot of people have asked us about being in the Top 25,” Baranczyk said. “I think some of it is just validation in terms of what our team has been able to do. Our players have fun playing, but we have to keep getting better. We have to put a good product on the floor.”

Now that the Sooners have recognition in the polls, Baranczyk stressed the importance of recognition from  fans as well.

“We'd like to keep getting up and down and be a fun team to watch, but people need to continue to come so we can continue to build our fan base,” Baranczyk said. “We want them to feel a part of that because our fans are a part of it. You feel good when you leave after you watch this team. You cannot help but feel really good.”

The Sooners (12-1, 1-0 Big 12) will take the court in their first ranked matchup of the year, as Baranczyk’s squad faces the Cyclones (12-1, 1-0) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Norman on Bally Sports Oklahoma.

“If (fans) come once, I guarantee you're going to come again,” Baranczyk said. “And that's what we need.”

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