Sooners brace for Kentucky
BY LYNN JACOBSEN World Sports Writer
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
3/30/10 at 4:35 AM
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Playing in the nation's toughest women's basketball conference has prepared Oklahoma well in its 2010 NCAA Tournament run.
Whether that transcends into a third Final Four appearance since 2002 remains to be seen.
The third-seeded Sooners (26-10) will face fourth-seeded Kentucky in Tuesday night's Elite Eight matchup at the Sprint Center.
But without a doubt, playing teams like Final Four-bound Baylor, No. 2 seed Texas A&M, Iowa State, Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma State — all of whom earned berths in this year's field — has proven invaluable.
"We've played Texas A&M three times," OU coach Sherri Coale said. "We've played Baylor three times. We've learned some things about ourselves over the course of that. And if you have not been on the floor with that, watching film doesn't do it justice. Sitting courtside doesn't really do it justice. You have to be out there on the floor with it."
When asked to compare the Wildcats (28-7) to someone in the Big 12, senior center Abi Olajuwon said, "(They) kind of remind me of Texas A&M, how fast they are and especially how scrappy they are."
Coale agreed, somewhat.
"They're a little different from A&M," the OU coach said. "They're not as long, as rangy. They may be faster, though, if that's even humanly possible. The way they that they play, the relentless waves, that's very much like Texas A&M, and that's probably the greatest comparison, even more than the athleticism, is just the unrelenting defense and it never changes. It never lets up, regardless of what's going on, score, time, et cetera."
Kentucky's success in the tournament has been built around Victoria Dunlap, a 6-foot-1 junior forward, who has 54 points in three tournament games and leads the team with a 17.7 scoring average.
"You don't become SEC player of the year just by doing nothing," Olajuwon said. "She's an amazing player, and I feel like at the end of the day we played in the Big 12, and it's the No. 1 and hardest conference for a reason. We played day in and day out different kinds of teams that are very versatile."
Freshman guard A'dia Mathies scored a team-high 21 points in the Wildcats' 76-67 win over Nebraska on Sunday, and is averaging 18.7 points in her last six games.
With a four-guard lineup, Kentucky used its quickness to crash the boards and enjoyed a 36-25 edge over the Cornhuskers.
"One thing coach Coale tells us a lot ... is rebounding is all about will and determination. So it really doesn't matter the size. If you want the ball bad enough, you're going to get it," Olajuwon said.
The Wildcats have relished the underdog role.
"That's extra motivation for them," OU's Danielle Robinson said. "They definitely use their speed and athleticism to their advantage and just getting out in the passing lanes and running in transition is what they like to do. We know we have to value every possession and not turn the ball over."
Kentucky players said they would continue to press against OU.
"The game will be won on the defensive end," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "(Robinson) plays a lot of minutes (for OU). Amber (Smith) plays a bunch of minutes. Vic (Victoria Dunlap) plays a bunch of minutes. It's going to be a lot about effort and who can execute and who could knock down a shot or two."
Lynn Jacobsen 581-8461
OU's Nyeshia Stevenson (left), Abi Olajuwon and Danielle Robinson talk with members of the media prior to Tuesday's regional final against Kentucky. Stephen Pingry / Tulsa World