SEATTLE (AP) — The last thing Oklahoma wanted was to let Gonzaga hang around with the Bulldogs essentially playing a home game just a few hours from campus.
No better way to stymie those upset hopes than a torrid shooting performance to get started.
“I guess the two weeks off that’s what happened. We were really trusting ourselves and playing confident,” Oklahoma’s Peyton Little said.
Vionise Pierre-Louis controlled the interior with 17 points, nine rebounds and nine blocked shots, Little got Oklahoma started with three 3-pointers in the first quarter and the sixth-seeded Sooners held on late for a 75-62 win over No. 11 seed Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
Oklahoma hit 6 of 8 3-pointers in the first quarter, scoring a season-best 29 points in the opening 10 minutes. The Sooners (23-9) then let their size on the interior stymie Gonzaga’s charges in the second half. The Bulldogs pulled within five midway through the fourth quarter, but Oklahoma pulled away in the final minutes.
“Our responses to all situations were really good and that continued throughout even though our shooting cooled,” Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said.
No one was more dominant inside than Pierre-Louis. The 6-foot-4 junior barely missed a triple-double but never allowed Gonzaga to establish much of a presence on the interior. The nine blocks were tied for the fifth most in an NCAA Tournament game. The record is 14 by Brittney Griner.
“The ball just literally came to my hand. It was just a reaction,” Pierre-Louis said. “I didn’t think before the game I would have that many blocks.”
Little scored 12 of her 18 points in the first half. Gabbi Ortiz added 12 points and Maddie Manning had 10 for the Sooners.
Laura Stockton led Gonzaga (26-7) with 14 points, Jill Barta added 13 and Elle Tinkle finished with 11 points, but the Bulldogs could never overcome the early deficit created by Oklahoma’s hot start.
“I was frustrated because I feel like we were giving them those opportunities to hit those,” Stockton said.
Down 13 at halftime, the Bulldogs pulled within nine after three quarters and cut the deficit to seven on Stockton’s transition layup with 7:38 remaining, the closest they had been since late in the first half. After an Oklahoma miss, Tinkle scored on a drive to pull Gonzaga within five, but Gioya Carter’s three-point play pushed the lead back to eight.
Twice more the Bulldogs pulled within five but the Sooners continued to answer and Manning’s corner 3-pointer with 4:15 left gave Oklahoma a 67-57 lead. Gonzaga was unable to get closer than eight the rest of the way.
“In the second half we made some baskets and calmed down a little bit but we needed to do it far earlier in the game,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said.
Oklahoma, averaging just over six made 3-pointers per game on the season, hit six 3s in the first quarter and eight in the first half, building a 39-26 lead at the break. Little was the main culprit from behind the arc, but Manning’s first basket was a 3 with 1:37 left in the half and Derica Wyatt added another 3 in the final minute to give the Sooners a 13-point advantage.
“I’m really proud of our team after being off for two weeks, the way we shot in the first quarter, we shot it about as well as we could shoot it,” Coale said.
Oklahoma made Barta a non-factor in the first half. Barta had 37 in the West Coast Conference championship game against Saint Mary’s, 22 of those coming in the first half. Barta was scoreless for the first 13 minutes and had just four points in the first half.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs were unable to match their tournament run of two years ago when as a No. 11 seed they reached the Sweet 16. Gonzaga was 3 of 18 (17 percent) on 3-pointers after hitting 33 percent for the season.
Oklahoma: The Sooners are in the round of 32 for the third straight year and the 15th time since 2000.
Oklahoma will face either No. 3 seed Washington or No. 14 seed Montana State on Monday night.