Saturday’s Big 12 Tournament semifinal in Kansas City between Oklahoma and Baylor was a tinderbox. All it needed was something to light the match.
With just over two minutes left, the match was lit. Sophomore guard Skylar Vann grabbed a rebound and raced down the court, landing awkwardly on her right leg after drawing a foul on a layup.
Vann struggled to get up as OU head coach Jennie Baranczyk raced from the sideline to check on her. In doing so, she moved several Baylor players out of the way, drawing a reaction from Bears coach Nicki Collen. She and Baranczyk exchanged words, with Baylor players joining in.
Vann’s injury, along with the confrontation, was the final frustration in a chippy game that ended with 33 combined fouls from both teams. Vann, the Big 12’s Sixth Player of the Year, watched No. 5 Baylor (27-5, 15-3 Big 12) close out its 91-76 win over No. 21 Oklahoma (24-8, 12-6) from the sidelines on crutches.
“We don't know anything yet,” Baranczyk said of Vann’s injury postgame. “We're hoping for the best, but I don't think anything will be confirmed until we get back."
After being swept by the No. 4-seeded Sooners in the regular season, Collen said she and the No. 1-seeded Bears took Saturday’s contest personally, leading to a combative performance. Two Baylor players recorded four fouls, while OU junior forward Liz Scott fouled out with five.
In the first half, the Bears kept their distance from the Sooners, taking a 47-40 lead into halftime. OU couldn’t keep up with Baylor in the third quarter and was outscored 28-16. Then, things got worse for the Sooners in the fourth quarter when Vann went down.
This season, the Edmond native has played a key role for OU, averaging 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game off the bench. With no timetable on her injury yet, it’s unclear whether she’ll be back for the start of the Sooners’ NCAA Tournament campaign next week.
In rushing to get to Vann, Baranczyk stressed she “didn’t mean to disrespect anyone.” She later apologized to Baylor players after the game.
“I saw my kid go down, and I ran out,” Baranczyk said. “I probably did push people out of the way to get to her. I was just trying to get to my kid.”
Despite what followed, senior forward Madi Williams, who scored a season-high 33 points on 13-for-28 shooting with eight rebounds against the Bears, spoke highly of Baranczyk’s actions.
“It means a lot as players to see your coach will do anything to get to you,” Williams said. “Jennie’s always preaching about staying locked in because she’s got our back, and we know that. We feel that.”
Senior guard Taylor Robertson, who added 17 points on 4-for-8 shooting, echoed her teammate’s praise.
“(Baranczyk’s) always got us, and we know that we got her too,” Robertson said. “It goes both ways. To be able to see that, it’s just really cool to play for somebody like that.”
The Bears hit the 90-point mark with two free throws in the final minute, marking the seventh time OU has given up 90 points this season. The Sooners allowed Baylor to shoot 45 percent from the field as Big 12 Player of the Year NaLyssa Smith scored 37 points.
OU will now head back to Norman, where it hopes to host its first NCAA Tournament game since 2010 on March 18 or 19. The NCAA Tournament selection committee will announce its decision at 8 p.m. Sunday on ESPN.
For now, the Sooners will try to block out the noise and focus on what’s ahead. Saturday’s commotion could be just the spark they need to make a March Madness run.
“I've tried to not think about that or even worry about it,” Robertson said. I’m just not even paying attention to it because we just need to focus on being us. I do think we should host, and I do think it would be a really cool opportunity for us to host. But, either way, we get to keep playing basketball.”