Oklahoma 78, Cent. Michigan 73

Joanna McFarland stepped in when no one else would for Oklahoma,

then Aaryn Ellenberg waited until the right moment to take

over.

McFarland had 18 points and a career-high 17 rebounds and

Ellenberg scored 18 of her 22 points in the second half Saturday to

lead the Sooners to a 78-73 victory over Central Michigan in the

first round of the NCAA tournament.

They made for quite a lethal tandem.

”She’s just a beast,” CMU coach Sue Guevara said of 6-foot-3

McFarland.

Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said of Ellenberg, her 3-point

specialist: ”That’s how she plays. The points come in fits and

starts. She calmed down, let the game come to her and found her

spots.”

Sixth-seeded Oklahoma (23-10) advances to Monday night’s

second-round game against the winner of Stetson and UCLA at Ohio

State’s St. John Arena.

It was clear who the Sooners wanted to play.

”We’d definitely like to see UCLA advance,” McFarland

said.

The Bruins came to Norman, Okla., on Nov. 14 and thoroughly

outplayed the home team in an 86-80 victory. The Sooners have not

forgotten.

As if that weren’t enough motivation, the Sooners know that if

the survive the two rounds in Columbus, they would return to nearby

Oklahoma City to play in the regional next week.

Despite 24 turnovers, the Sooners had just enough to hold off

the Chippewas (21-12), who were making their third trip to the NCAA

and first since 1984. Crystal Bradford had a sensational game for

CMU with a career-high 36 points (on 14 of 31 shooting from the

field) plus 14 rebounds and seven steals.

”I was playing with everything I’ve got,” said the sophomore,

who averaged 15.5 points during the season. ”It hurt more to give

it all and come up short.”

Ellenberg, who held Oklahoma’s season (103) and career (272)

records for 3-pointers made, hit 4 of 5 in the second half to rally

her team, which was struggling to hold onto the lead. She hit three

in a row during one span for the Sooners. With 3:11 left and late

in the shot clock, she hit another to extend the lead to 71-60.

”When they got close, we knew we had to gather ourselves,”

Ellenberg said. ”We were not going to give up the lead.”

Every time CMU would draw close, it seemed, the Sooners would

get a key bucket from either McFarland or Ellenberg. The lead

waffled between nine points but as few as two for most of the

second half, with the teams trading runs.

Ellenberg’s three 3s in the middle of the second half allowed

Oklahoma to hold off CMU, which had drawn to 49-47 on a three-point

play by Bradford. When her third 3 caught nothing but net, it gave

the Sooners a 58-49 lead.

Still, the Chippewas fought back to 73-68 with just over a

minute left on a floater by Brandie Baker, who had 12 points, but

they could get no closer.

”We kept coming back,” Guevara said. ”We had wide-open shots,

but they just didn’t go.”

Amazingly, Central Michigan had 31 more shots from the field

(84-53) but made only 31 percent to the Sooners’ 47 percent.

Oklahoma put the game away on two foul shots apiece by Morgan

Hook and Sharane Campbell and one by Ellenberg in the final 25

seconds.

Oklahoma, making its 16th trip to the NCAA and 14th in a row,

has won its first-round games eight years in a row. The Sooners

suffered a blow that might have crippled many teams when they lost

their top player, senior guard Whitney Hand, to a knee injury on

Dec. 6.

”Central Michigan gave us all we could handle and then some,”

Coale said. ”Crystal Bradford was unbelievable all day long. But

our kids took their best shot and weathered it. We just find a way

to win. That’s been the identity of this squad all season long and

we did it again today.”

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