At the beginning of this season, Oklahoma was tasked with learning head coach Jennie Baranczyk’s new system.
Slowly, but surely, her players are becoming more and more comfortable with it.
The Sooners (5-1) wrapped their campaign in the Women’s Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament by finishing fifth after beating Minnesota (4-3) 88-69 on Monday. It was OU’s best performance of the tournament as it maintained a double-digit lead for a majority of the contest, trailing for only 15 seconds in the first quarter.
Four OU players, including seniors Taylor Robertson, Ana Llanusa and Madi Williams, reached double figures. Robertson scored 19 points, hitting 5-of-6 baskets from 3. Llanusa scored 17 and Williams recorded a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. The fourth double-digit scorer, sophomore forward Skylar Vann, put in yet another impressive performance from the bench, shooting 70 percent and amassing 15 points.
As the shots fell, the Sooners made stops on the defensive end. Against the Golden Gophers, they allowed just 40 percent shooting and forced 20 turnovers. Three players recorded multiple steals, including freshman guard Kelbie Washington’s three steals. It’s a continuation from Oklahoma’s stellar defensive performance in its last game when it held Buffalo to just 35 percent shooting.
Six games in, the Sooners have finally begun to play the complete games Baranczyk desires.
“One of the more amazing things that I’ve seen is the conversations that are happening on the floor,” Baranczyk said after the win over Minnesota. “They’re starting to strategize together. They’re starting to look for things, they’re starting to see things and they’re making reads out of that system.”
In OU’s first few games, players relied on Baranczyk to determine what sets the Sooners run. She constantly yelled out commands and let the players know what was going on. Now, they’re relying on each other, which is what Baranczyk’s system is all about. Williams expressed OU’s ability to grow as a team, bring energy and become more connected on the floor as proof that Baranczyk’s system is working.
The Sooners also enjoy the ability to express themselves more freely. Robertson loves shooting 3s. Because of Baranczyk, she now has the green light to shoot them whenever.
As a result, Robertson is averaging 19 points per game, with 26 of her 27 baskets this season being 3s. The same feeling is felt by others like Llanusa, who has quickly found her stride after missing last season due to back surgery.
“We’re just getting to play a lot more free,” Llanusa said. “We’ve all played together for years now, but being able to go out there and run the team ourselves is pretty cool. It’s different from anything I’ve ever experienced.”
With more than a week off before their next game against SMU, the Sooners are trusting the process. With time, OU has the opportunity to become a well-oiled machine like Baranczyk’s past Drake teams.
“We just bring a lot of energy regardless if we’re up or down, and that’s what makes it fun,” Williams said. “The more that we work together, and the more that we practice together, the more we’re gonna grow as a team.”