By CLAY HORNING
NORMAN — The final score, 96-37, wasn’t particularly important, though coach Sherri Coale likely wished her reserves would not have appeared so challenged in the second half against an outmatched group from Central Oklahoma.
Instead, it was about the first half, when Oklahoma built a 51-8 lead, holding the Bronchos scoreless for 16:01 of the first 20 minutes, the drought finally interrupted when Jill Bryan converted a pair of free throws 5 seconds before intermission.
Who plays defense — that much defense — in a meaningless exhibition game? Apparently, the Sooner women.
“I think it speaks to their maturity as a group and probably to the internal leadership from the four seniors in particular,” Coale said, referencing Aaryn Ellenberg, Morgan Hook, Nicole Griffin and Portia Durrett. “I think they recognize that we are responsible to the energy we bring to the game.”
The last of OU’s exhibition contests, the regular season begins at 7 p.m. Friday against Stetson back inside Lloyd Noble Center, a game that’s also a first-round contest in the Preseason WNIT.
And if what the Sooners managed in two dress rehearsals carries over, the last thing they may have to worry about is the way they defend.
“It’s not about who we play. It’s about us,” said Hook, the senior point guard who logged 16 minutes after missing OU’s exhibition victory over Cameron with a dislocated thumb. “We start the WNIT on Friday. We just really had the mindset of playing the best we could play and not (thinking) about who we were playing.”
UCO finished the first half hitting 2 of 32 from the field, including 0-of-15 accuracy from within the 3-point arc. The Bronchos committed 13 turnovers and suffered five Sooner blocked shots, one of them from Ellenberg, the most diminutive of OU’s starters.
This time, unlike three days earlier, OU’s offense didn’t come along quite so easily. The Sooners finished the game making 47. 1 percent (33 of 70) of their shots, but managed just 6 of 25 from 3-point land and yet again struggled from the free-throw line, where they made 24 of 36.
Kaylon Williams, back from tearing her Achilles’ tendon in the 2012 preseason, came off the bench to score 18 points and grab eight rebounds in 21 minutes, leading the Sooners in the first two categories. Her partner in the post, Griffin, played just 15 minutes, but made them count with 13 points.
“I felt pretty good tonight running up and down with Nicole,” Williams said. “We kind of had a tag team deal tonight being a threat in the post and sending a message out early to some people that we’re not going to be soft.”
Ellenberg added 16 points and Durrett led the reserves in the second half to finish with 10.
Julia Mason led UCO with 11 points and six rebounds, yet her accuracy — 4 of 19, 1 of 4 from 3-point land — was right in line with the rest of her teammates. As a group, the Bronchos hit 17.9 percent (12 of 67) of their shots.
Though UCO managed 29 second-half points, the Sooners had already made their point with plenty of fantastic defense.
“They thing that I have been most pleased about, in a nutshell, in our two exhibition games has been our effort defensively,” Coale said. “We’re guarding people together.”