Without a star, Sooners headed for Final Four
The Final Four is loaded with superstars: Connecticut has Maya Moore and Tina Charles. Baylor has Brittney Griner, Stanford has Jayne Appel and Nnemka Ogwumike.
But Oklahoma? The Sooners certainly haven't lacked for star power in previous trips to the Final Four, but they arrive in San Antonio this season without a high-profile player - and they say that's a blessing.
``That's a good thing, that we don't have one premier name,'' junior guard Danielle Robinson said Thursday, not long before the Sooners left for Texas. ``You know that if one of us is off, somebody else is going to pick up the slack. You just never know with us who it's going to be and that's a great thing.
``We don't need the so-called recognition to know how great we are. We know that night in and night out, we're going to play for each other and that's what's carrying us right now. ... We're just going out there and having fun.''
Oklahoma (27-10) does have a third-team All-America pick in Robinson, the team's leading scorer at 16.6 points per game, but she'll agree she's no superstar. Fellow guard Nyeshia Stevenson was the Kansas City Regional MVP, while center Abi Olajuwon has had two double-doubles in the NCAA tournament and forward Amanda Thompson has had three.
All four players have double-figure scoring averages.
The Sooners, who will play Stanford (35-1) in a semifinal Sunday, see themselves as the proverbial team with players who don't care who gets the credit, as long as the job gets done. It's a formula that has worked well down the stretch for Oklahoma, which is 12-4 since an embarrassing 18-point home loss to Texas on Feb. 3.
``I think that says a lot about why we're here,'' Stevenson said.
This is Oklahoma's third trip to the Final Four and certainly the most unexpected. In 2002, the Sooners had a veteran squad led by senior first-team All-America guard Stacey Dales. Last season, four-time first-team All-America center Courtney Paris was a dominant presence.
With Paris and her twin sister, Ashley, gone, the conventional wisdom was that the Sooners would have to rely mostly on Robinson and Whitney Hand, last season's Big 12 Conference freshman of the year. But five games into the season, Hand tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee.
Suddenly, more was expected from Stevenson and Thompson, who had played mostly supporting roles in previous seasons, as well as Olajuwon, who had sat behind the Paris sisters for three seasons.
Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said it took time to adjust.
``Whitney got hurt and it was like everything was just set back at that point,'' Coale said. ``It retarded our growth enough that maybe we did come together and figure it out at just the right time.''
Oklahoma showed how far it has come with regional wins against Notre Dame and Kentucky, teams that play vastly different styles. In a 77-72 overtime win over the Fighting Irish, the 6-foot-4 Olajuwon dominated in half-court sets with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Against Kentucky's breakneck defensive pressure, Stevenson thrived, scoring 31 points in an 88-68 win.
``We have an unusual ability to sort of be a chameleon,'' Coale said. ``We can play half-court, bang-bang-bang, like Notre Dame, or we can play Kentucky, boom-boom-boom, here we go. We just have enough of a mix to be able to do that. ... I think our ability to play any way a game needs to go gives us an advantage.''
Stanford will present yet another challenge with a front line of the 6-foot-2 Ogwumike and two 6-foot-4 players, Appel and Kayla Pedersen. Plus, there's the history between the two programs - the Cardinal is 4-2 all-time against Oklahoma, including NCAA tournament wins in 2004 and 2006.
But Coale and the Sooners are riding a crest of confidence and say the past doesn't matter, in part because this season's team is different.
``It's really an Oklahoma team whose identity is, we play together,'' Coale said. ``You have to be aware of everyone. It's sometimes very difficult to game-plan for.''