No. 12 Oklahoma 68, S. Dakota St. 57
One late dry spell couldn't spoil Oklahoma's run of success in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Nyeshia Stevenson scored 17 points, Abi Olajuwon added 15 and third-seeded Oklahoma beat South Dakota State 68-57 on Sunday night despite going the final 7 minutes with just one field goal on its home floor.
The Sooners (24-10) stalled on offense against the Jackrabbits' zone defense, but No. 14 seed South Dakota State (22-11) couldn't close the gap quickly enough. Oklahoma moved into the second round for the fifth straight year and the ninth time in the last 11 seasons.
``I was a little disappointed in our second half. I didn't think we came out of the locker room with the right amount of fire and intensity of an NCAA tournament game,'' coach Sherri Coale said.
``And to be quite frank, I was a little disappointed with our crowd. I mean, this is an NCAA tournament game. We are in the Big Dance and we don't fill the arena?''
Only 5,368 fans showed up, creating the smallest home crowd of the season for an Oklahoma program that had been averaging 7,945 in attendance. The crowd for the Sooners' regular-season finale against Oklahoma State was more than twice as big as Sunday night's crowd.
Lacking their usual energy burst from the audience, the Sooners - coming off a Final Four appearance last season, when former national player of the year Courtney Paris was on the team - could never deliver a knockout punch in the second half against the Summit League champions.
``That's just the way it goes. You only have 40 minutes. ... We played our hearts out and we left it out on the court, and I'm proud of how our team fought back,'' said Kristin Rotert, who led SDSU with 13 points.
The Jackrabbits had the ball twice with a 64-57 deficit in the final 2 minutes, but came up empty on back-to-back possessions before Joanna McFarland and Stevenson sealed the win with a pair of free throws apiece for Oklahoma in the final 10 seconds.
``Knowing they're a great 3-point shooting team, you just had to grind it out possession by possession,'' Oklahoma point guard Danielle Robinson said.
Robinson added 13 points, eight assists and four steals, while Amanda Thompson had 11 points and 15 rebounds for the Sooners. Oklahoma advanced to face 11th-seeded Arkansas-Little Rock on Tuesday night.
Robinson sparked a 20-5 first-half run by the Sooners with a steal and a run-out layup that ended up turning into a three-point play. It was a sign of things to come.
She added another fast-break layup in the big run and Stevenson hit a pair of 3-pointers as Oklahoma went up 24-13. Then she did it a third time to cap a string of eight straight points for the Sooners that restored the lead to 34-20 after the Jackrabbits had gotten within six.
Oklahoma had eight fast-break points in the first half and none in the second half.
``It was huge for us in the beginning. We knew that coming in, that we had to use our athleticism to our advantage,'' Robinson said. ``We made them turn it over a few times and we got some easy points in transition, and that's what gave us the lead early.''
But Oklahoma couldn't come up with a similar run after halftime, when Stevenson and Robinson combined for only six points.
South Dakota State was looking to duplicate the thrilling finish to its first season in Division I. The Jackrabbits made it to the NCAAs last season and won their first game in a blowout, then pushed second-seeded Baylor to the limit in a 60-58 loss in the second round.
Coach Aaron Johnston turned to a zone for the first time since his team's season opener against Gonzaga, and that helped create a run of six straight points that got South Dakota State within 62-55 on Leah Dietel's foul line jumper with 3:49 left. Robinson ended a 4-minute scoreless stretch with a layup off a baseline cut, but the Sooners didn't score again until the closing seconds.
``We had a lot of time off from the Summit League tournament, so we actually worked on a few different things that we hadn't shown a lot,'' Johnston said. ``If it did anything for us, I think it got them to maybe settle for some jump shots. They lost a little aggressiveness going to the basket, and that obviously caused us a lot of problems.''