OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma had been playing with house money all season. After suffering through four season-ending injuries, the Sooners had battled, scraped and willed themselves to a Sweet 16 appearance.
However, playing at home with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line, the Sooners’ magic ran out. No. 2-seed Tennessee rolled through OU 74-59 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, putting an end to an already unexpected run.
“Even though we didn’t win the game, the season is over, I could not be more proud of a group of kids,” Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. “These guys have done amazing things this season against really unbelievable odds. I have loved coaching them and I’m so sad that I don’t get to coach them tomorrow.”
The Sooners (24-11) had hoped to ride the momentum that had carried them through the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament. But Tennessee (26-7) had too many horses and the Sooners missed too many shots.
The Lady Vols took an early lead and never gave it back.
Senior Kamiko Williams paced the Vols with 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting. She also tallied seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. She was playing with high energy from the start and it took a while for OU to catch up to the pace she set.
Tennessee also got 13 points from Cierra Burdick and 12 apiece out of Taber Spani and Isabelle Harrison.
“We are a great basketball team and we played team basketball,” Burdick said. “When we play that way, we’re hard to guard.”
Joanna McFarland led OU with 14 points and 16 rebounds, including eight off the offensive glass. Sharane Campbell had a game high 22 points while Aaryn Ellenberg posted 13 points on 5-for-21 shooting. As a team, the Sooners had only dished assists.
“I think I just rushed it a little bit,” Ellenberg said. “I was a little excited about being out there and they just weren’t falling. I tried to do as much as I could to adjust to it, but they just weren’t (falling).”
Behind Williams, Tennessee jumped out quick and seemed to catch the Sooners off guard with their pressing defense. Even after OU figured it out, the Lady Vols, with size and athleticism the Sooners don’t possess, swarmed defensively. That included Harrison, who came off the bench to swat a couple of shots in the first half.
OU tried to ride McFarland back into the game. The senior forward knocked down a couple 3-pointers, which forced the Vols to have to come out and guard her.
But, it got worse for the Sooners at the 10:49 mark when Morgan Hook went down after colliding with a Tennessee player. She had to be helped off the floor and didn’t return due to concussion-like symptoms.
With Hook out of action and Ellenberg unable to find her shot, the game quickly got away from OU.
Tennessee led 44-27 at the half.
“You got to find a way,” Campbell said on the subject of losing Hook. “That’s the only answer. You can’t panic. We still had basically the whole first and second half to go. I mean, if anything, play hard for her.”
OU came out of halftime rolling and cut the Vols advantage to 13 points. They forced Tennessee to call a time-out 2 minutes in and finally had the partisan OU crowd on its feet.
Tennessee calmed down and once again turned to its defense, shutting the Sooners down and doubling its lead.
“We communicated before the game that it didn’t matter where we are or how many more fans the other team has,” Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons said. “We have to remember that we are playing as if we were at home. Play together and it doesn’t matter how many fans we have or they have as long as we play Tennessee basketball.”
With the game out of the reach, the Sooners played to the final buzzer. In the last 5 minutes, OU cut the Lady Vols’ 28-point lead down to 15, which showed just what the team has been about this season.
“That’s just our character and our heart really,” Ellenberg said. “We don’t know anything else but to play hard and that’s what we do.”