COLUMBUS, Ohio — A lot of teams grow apart over a long season.
Oklahoma’s drew closer.
Aaryn Ellenberg scored 27 points from the perimeter and Joanna McFarland handled things inside with 20 points and 16 rebounds to lead the Sooners past UCLA 85-72 on Monday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament — earning them a trip back to their home state for the regional semifinals.
“These guys are so good together,” Sooners coach Sherri Coale said. “Tonight was so fitting because the way they are with one another off the floor was the way they played on the floor — that connectedness, for lack of a better word.”
Sixth-seeded Oklahoma (24-10) will face No. 2 seed Tennessee (26-7) — a 68-52 winner over Creighton — in Oklahoma City on Sunday.
Late in the game, Sooners boosters started chanting, “O-K-C! O-K-C!”
“It’s very, very exciting to be going home,” McFarland said. “We’re 40 minutes away so hopefully we’ll have a very big fan base.”
Sharane Campbell added 19 points and Nicole Griffin had 10 for the Sooners, who never trailed after a 15-3 first-half spurt.
“Our guys are the kind that the more time they spend together, the better they get,” Coale said. “Some teams are just the opposite: Don’t lock ‘em up in a hotel room for three or four days or everything will come unraveled. Not these guys.”
Atonye Nyingifa had 18 points, Markel Walker 14, Jasmine Dixon 13 and Alyssia Brewer and Thea Lemberger 10 apiece for third-seeded UCLA (26-8), which fell to 11-12 in NCAA tournament play.
As Bruins coach Cori Close finished her postgame remarks, she crossed paths with Oklahoma’s players and Coale.
“You guys did a heck of a job,” she said. “You were the better team.”
They weren’t the last time these two met.
The game was a rematch of each team’s second game this season, when UCLA came to Norman, Okla., and beat the Sooners 86-80 on Nov. 14. In that game, the Bruins had bludgeoned the Sooners with their inside game, outrebounding them 56-34 and turning 24 offensive boards into 23 second-chance points.
But on this night, the Sooners fought on relatively even terms inside and outscored the Bruins 33-6 from 3-point range, hitting 11 of 27 to UCLA’s 2 of 12. Three times in the last 3 minutes, it was McFarland who grabbed offensive rebounds to take time off the clock and add to the lead.
“We just played together and we played with a lot of emotion,” McFarland said. “We refused to lose. It was all or nothing. It was a team effort and it just felt amazing the whole night.”
Down 40-30 late in the first half, the Bruins closed with a 7-2 run and scored eight of the first 11 points in the second half to tie it briefly at 45.
But then Campbell hit a 3, McFarland made a free throw and Ellenberg tossed in a 3 from at least five feet behind the arc to put Oklahoma back up 52-45. The lead swelled to eight when Griffin hit a foul shot.
After the teams traded baskets over the next 2 1/2 minutes, Ellenberg raced down the floor in transition and hit a 3, pushing the lead back to 10 with 12:19 remaining.
“We felt like were chasing them from the start of the game,” Close said.
The advantage remained at or near 10 points until Ellenberg came off a pick out high and hit nothing but net on a 3 for a 74-60 lead with just 4:31 left. UCLA never got closer than nine again.
The Sooners are making their 16th trip to the NCAA tournament and their 14th in a row.
Ellenberg came in with a school-record 107 3-pointers this season, adding to her school-record 276. Amazingly, the 5-foot-7 junior with the slight build shoots 40 percent behind the arc.
“When I’m making shots, that confidence comes,” she said. “Why not exploit that area if they’re not guarding you very well?”
Down 18-15 midway through the opening half, the Sooners sprinted away.
They scored on five consecutive possessions — including three 3-pointers and another three-point play. McFarland was the key to the spurt with consecutive 3s. The first came from the right corner and the next trip down the floor she took a step toward the hoop from the extreme left corner with her defender falling down. She then stepped back and swished the shot.
Coale had an idea that her team wasn’t ready to quit playing.
“We began yesterday talking about having one more week together,” she said. “We didn’t talk about winning the game, we didn’t talk about going to the Sweet 16. We talked about having one more week together. You could see it just sort of bubbling within them. They were going to make that happen.”
Ellenberg scores 27 points as Sooners punch ticket to Sweet 16 in Oklahoma City.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A lot of teams grow apart over a long season.
Back on the line
RiverHawks’ Ethan James returns to the line healthy and ready for 2014
RiverHawks offensive lineman Ethan James will enter the 2014 season healthy – something the team, and James, were not in 2013.
Sooners shifting several positions
Experience comes from encountering the same things in the same ways over and over again. Oklahoma’s Geneo Grissom and Julian Wilson have that at defensive end and nickleback in bunches.
However, both will be seeing new things when practice begins. Grissom is moving to outside linebacker. Wilson will be getting a look at cornerback as his senior season begins
Better police needed for college teams enticed to cheat
The NCAA once cracked down on colleges that went too far luring top prospects, then it targeted teams that lathered players with special treatment. That was until the NCAA's get-tough approach backfired, rendering it ineffective and creating an opportunity for those who want to play dirty.
Media Week: Change is coming
Changes are coming to college athletics.
That was the theme of the state of the conference speech by Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby on the first day of Big 12 Football Media Days.
Cowboy quandary: OSU defense trying to replace seven starters
A year after the best defensive team in the Mike Gundy era, the questions now surround how those few returning starters and second-year defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer can maintain that high level of efficiency.
Really one true champion?
I decided to spare the colleagues in front of me – and myself from making a scene – by holding back flipping my table at the Big 12 Conference Football Media Days in Dallas.
I had become exhausted by the constant use and misrepresentation by the Big 12 with their moniker of “One True Champion.” If they are going to live with the slogan, then they need to abide by that slogan.
Perhaps its a simple case that they are keeping constant with the poor math of the 10-team Big 12 Conference.
Hill expected to be used in multiple facets
The picture became a little clearer recently of how Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Year Tyreek Hill will be utilized in the Oklahoma State offense.
And the picture is rather wide.
Expectations too high for a rehabbing Woods
Tiger Woods finished near bottom last weekend at Royal Liverpool, drawing out his drought of major tournament wins. Despite the disappointing showing, Woods' return to form remains a matter of when, not if.
Time to rest
Shock beats San Antonio before entering All-Star break
- McIlroy leads, Tiger Woods in contention after 1st day at British Open
- More Sports Headlines
- Back on the line