When the Sooners headed into halftime Saturday, Jennie Baranczyk knew adjustments were in store.
OU’s coach had just witnessed her squad muster 12 points and commit six turnovers in a sloppy second quarter of play. Additionally, two first quarter fouls kept senior Liz Scott on the bench through the entirety of the quarter, while senior Madi Williams was held to three minutes of action.
Despite their foul trouble, Williams and Scott set a different tone early in the second half, with each fighting for a pair of offensive rebounds within the first two minutes of action.
Though it didn’t result in any scoring, the pair’s effort on the boards sparked a dominant third quarter performance which elevated No. 5 seed Oklahoma (26-6, 14-4 Big 12) to an 85-63 victory over No. 12 seed Portland (23-9, 15-3 WCC) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Los Angeles on Saturday.
“I felt like the energy, even in that first possession, we came out and we had a lot of offensive rebounds and played really hard and got no points out of it and they came down and scored even,” Baranczyk said. “(But) the way we came out with that energy and intensity … When we do that and you take everything else out, we're a really good basketball team.”
OU’s offensive efforts in the third were led by junior Aubrey Joens, who tallied eight points and collected two steals. Joens fueled OU on two separate occasions when she drove to the basket, made a contested layup, and converted her free throw for a 3-point play.
“She was huge on the offensive end and defensive end,” senior Taylor Robertson said of Joens’ performance. “She got her hands on so many loose balls just diving on the floor. Her effort and hustle was really good tonight. She can make plays. She's not just a shooter, she can get to the rim and had a couple and-ones. It's cool to see her being more aggressive because we need that.”
Jones' defensive intensity was matched by the rest of OU’s squad, which forced seven turnovers, translating to 11 points. Junior Neveah Tot opened the Sooners’ first double-digit lead of the second half after ripping the ball away from Portland forward Lucy Cochrane and traveling three-quarters of the floor to convert a layup.
Nevaeh with the steal and score! The Oklahoma lead is up to 1️⃣1️⃣! OU 49, UP 38 | 6:12 3Q #Sooners | 📺 ESPNU pic.twitter.com/wNHCrnKVIO— Oklahoma Basketball (@OU_WBBall) March 19, 2023
“When we as coaches can allow them that space really to be able to feel that game and make some of those adjustments, I think they do,” Baranczyk said. “Sometimes matchups can be some coaching but the players are always going to be the ones that play. The way they played together, I thought was phenomenal. That's where … We got some deflections and that's where we got some steals.”
OU’s regular season rest pays off
OU was bolstered by its abundance of depth all season, allowing coach Jennie Baranczyk to rest some of her star players.
“We’ve really balanced out the minutes in some of these games,” Barancyzk said of her squad’s depth early this season. “It’s really nice that we’re not maxing them out and playing (them) 40 minutes (per) game throughout the whole month of February, then asking them to be really fresh in March.”
OU regularly incorporated 10 player rotations throughout the season. Its leader in minutes per game,Tot, averaged 27.7, ranking 29th in the Big 12.
Baranczyk’s tactics paid off, as Williams, who averaged 25.7 minutes through regular season play, fueled the Sooners from the jump with 13 first-half points Saturday, despite foul trouble limiting her to 10 minutes. Senior Taylor Robertson added seven points on 2 of 2 shooting and played 16 minutes in the opening half. OU’s added energy sparked a first quarter run which resulted in a 27-21 advantage.
”I think our energy was really good,” Robertson said. “That really jump started us … We were just playing really good team basketball. And whenever we play team ball, everybody is hitting shots, so it's really easy to feel in a groove.
A TRIPLE FROM @T_Rob30#MarchMadness x @OU_WBBall pic.twitter.com/ZGtj2PzVxS— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessWBB) March 19, 2023
Sooners dominate the boards
OU stepped up in the rebounding department on Saturday.
The Sooners boasted a 47-31 rebounding advantage during the contest and grabbed 20 offensive boards to the Pilots’ 12. OU converted its second chance opportunities into 24 points, whereas Portland cashed in just seven.
“We like to establish the paint,” Robertson said. “That's one of our main focuses on the offensive end and defensive end, just being aggressive early and playing from inside out. We were able to execute that pretty well today.”
Senior forward Liz Scott flexed her physicality in the paint, pulling down 12 boards, seven of which came on the offensive end. Junior forward Skylar Vann tallied an 11-rebound, 11-point double-double.
Portland wreaked havoc on the Sooners by collecting six steals and blocking two shots during the second quarter. Portland 6-foot-6 forward Lucy Cochrane fought for the Pilots down low and sent back six shots in total.
“It took us a little bit (of time), especially in that second quarter,” Baranczyk said. “Their length, I think, got to us a little bit. We had to make some adjustments in terms of being able to move, not coaching adjustments, but you've got to be able to, especially when you don't know a team and you're watching them on a screen … you have to step out and feel it out and that's what our players do a really good job of.”
Next, OU will face UCLA in the second round at 9 p.m. Monday in Los Angeles.
“When you're playing on anybody's home floor, you've got to take care of the basketball,” Baranczyk said. “Doesn't matter when it is, and (those turnovers) can't turn into points. … We've got to be a little bit more (willing to) make some singles and knock some home run plays. There's a time and place to make a home run play and there's a time and place just to get your singles. I think we had a couple turnovers in those, too.”
This story was edited by Colton Sulley.
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