MOORE — Down three starters and two team captains since the first week of December, Oklahoma, in their 14th straight NCAA tournament, beat UCLA 85-72 Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.
All in one night, OU bucked the odds, gained revenge and proved more with less isn’t that impossible a concept.
The Sooners did it by getting an All-American performance from Aaryn Ellenberg, who’s been chasing greatness for a long time but caught it against the Bruins; by getting another huge game from Joanna McFarland, who must be playing her way into a professional career somewhere if she wants it; and by getting the X-factor performance from Sharane Campbell that Coale had foreshadowed only the day before. And, individual accolades aside, by playing murderously hard for 40 minutes on both ends of the court.
The Sooners advanced to the Sweet 16, which will be held at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. They will take on No. 2 seed Tennessee Sunday.
“Their belief, their resilience and their perseverance all came to a head tonight,” OU coach Sherri Coale said of her players. “They were in sync with one another, determined and absolutely refused to lose that game.”
Even as it ended, OU was building its lead. Even the Sooners could have relaxed, but they didn’t entertain the option.
Case in point, the score 75-62 with 2:21 remaining, when UCLA’s Allysia Brewer hit a shot, got fouled and missed the free throw, only for it to lead an offensive rebound and a Nirra Fields’ jumper: the rare four-point possession. That made it 75-66, but the Bruins never got closer.
With five seconds remaining, Coale dove into a bear hug with Whitney Hand and Lyndsey Cloman, the two captains who lost their seasons long ago but continue to dress for games, maybe because every one could be their last chance to put on a uniform.
Soon after, the whole team rushed the court.
“We played together and we played with a lot of emotion,” McFarland said. “We refused to lose. We knew it was all or nothing. It was a team effort and it felt amazing the whole night.”
Ellenberg finished with 27 points on 8 of 20 shooting and 6 of 13 from 3-point land.
McFarland had 20 points and 16 rebounds, canning 3 of 4 3-point attempts and 9 of 10 free throws. Campbell made 6 of 8 shots and 6 of 7 free throws.