CNHI News Services
Oklahoma wants to run, but that means getting defensive rebounds.
The Sooners want to get to the free-throw line, but that necessitates hitting the free tosses they earn.
Failing in that, OU doesn’t want to hurt itself, but that means taking care of the ball.
Execute none of the above and it leads to what happened Wednesday night at Lloyd Noble Center, where UCLA proved stronger, tougher and better, claiming an 86-80 victory over the 11th-ranked Sooners.
“There’s no excuse for it,” senior guard and team captain Whitney Hand said. “We weren’t in the right state of mind, and that’s evident in how the game went.”
It was close because OU staged a near-comeback for the ages, turning a 69-51 game with 9:57 remaining into an 80-78 game with 54 seconds remaining when Sharane Campbell broke free for a layup.
But the Sooners never had the ball with a chance to tie the game. Jasmine Dixon made two free throws to put UCLA up 82-78, and Morgan Hook followed with a blown layup on the other end.
Hook hit a reverse layup with 21 seconds remaining to make it 83-80, but the Sooners didn’t score again.
“We felt like we were going to get there,” OU shooting guard Aaryn Ellenberg said. “We started making some baskets and we started playing little tougher.”
“Tough” may have been the word of the night.
Led by Sapulpa High School product Alyssia Brewer, who pulled down 16 rebounds — including seven off the offensive glass, UCLA claimed a 56-34 board advantage. Equally stunning, OU only had two more defensive rebounds (26) than UCLA had offensive rebounds (24).
That led to another very telling stat. The Sooners hit 43.1 percent of their shots and the Bruins hit 43.8 percent. But UCLA took 73 shots to OU’s 58, which had everything to do with the Bruins’ rebounding advantage.
“I’m disappointed with our effort and our response to the physical play,” OU coach Sherri Coale said. “If that’s the way they’re going to play, then we have to adjust to it and we have to fight back and be just as physical as they’re being. … You don’t beat anybody when you give up 24 offensive rebounds. It’s a number that’s just unheard of.”
OU might have made some of the difference up at the free-throw line but hit only 19 of 31.
Though the Sooners took reasonable care of the ball in the second half, 12 first-half turnovers contributed to a 37-36 deficit. Had OU committed half that many, it might have led by 10.
As it was, the Sooners were trailing at the break, despite a fantastic first half from Ellenberg. The junior finished with a game-high 24 points, 20 coming in the first 20 minutes, when she canned all six of her 3-point attempts.
Hand added 19 points and a team-high six rebounds for the Sooners. Sharane Campbell and Nicole Griffin both finished with 12 points.
Point guard Thea Lemberger led UCLA with 18 points, but it was the Bruins’ front-line forwards that did the Sooners in: Markel Walker with 16 points, Brewer with 15 and Dixon with 11.
“That was one of our three keys to the game,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “To attack them inside.”
Of course, when that attack failed, the Bruins need not have worried. Another chance was only a rebound away.