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COLUMN: Oklahoma Passes First NCAA Test Under Jennie Baranczyk

The Sooners were tested all year by tight games, and that paid off against IUPUI — but a tougher opponent looms.

NORMAN — First-year Oklahoma coach Jennie Baranczyk has shined all season, but she passed her first big test on Saturday night.

In a 78-72 first-round NCAA Tournament victory over IUPUI, the 4-seed Sooners (25-8) traded blow-for-blow with the plucky underdog, stretched it to a comfortable lead early in the fourth quarter, then withstood a Jaguars rally.

The bottom line: OU survived and advanced.

"I've been on the other side of some bad seeding," Baranczyk said, "and I think IUPUI a bad seed."

The Sooners were tested by the Jaguars (24-7), but they were more than ready for the test, fortified by nine wins this season of 6 points or less, including two wins in overtime and three buzzer-beaters.

"I think it's just the makeup of who you are," Baranczyk said. "It's part of the whole season. It's part of who we've been this whole year.

" ... I love that our players really manage it really well. Sometimes the ball goes in and sometimes it doesn't."

The next game, of course, will be tougher. Notre Dame, a 5-seed who beat No. 12 Massachusetts 89-78 earlier on the LNC floor, comes into Monday’s game at 23-8 and has a significant NCAA pedigree.

While 13-seed IUPUI — a game opponent with a dominant low-post player, plenty of shooters and a big heart — was making its first-ever NCAA Tournament, the Fighting Irish have now been to the Big Dance 27 times and are now 68-24 in NCAA Tournament games with nine Final Fours and two national championships (2001, 2018).

Jennie Baranczyk - IUPUI
Kelbie Washington - IUPUI
Kennady Tucker 9- IUPUI

UND’s 24-year streak of NCAA Tournament appearances ended last year, and the Irish may have a new streak under second-year coach Niele Ivey.

OU is 1-2 against the Irish in the tournament, with the last meeting in 2011 in the Sweet Sixteen.

Notre Dame experienced a similar turnaround as Oklahoma this season. After coach Muffet McGraw retired and turned it over to her former All-American, Ivey’s first season resulted in a 10-10 record last year.

At OU, Sherri Coale’s final season produced a 12-12 record, and her retirement opened the door for Baranczyk’s turnaround.

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"It wasn't just last year," said OU senior Madi Williams. It was rough the last three years."

When things got tense Saturday night — when a roster that hadn't been in the postseason in four years — Baranczyk was saved by her seniors.

Williams scored 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting, and Taylor Robertson led the way with 22 points by hitting 4-of-10 from 3-point range and 8-of-9 free throws down the stretch. 

Robertson also had four rebounds, four assists, two blocks and delivered the most timely defensive play of the game by double-teaming and stripping IUPUI ace Macee Williams of the ball on an entry pass into the low post, allowing the Sooners an extra possession in crunch time.

"I think as the game goes on, our pace starts to wear down other people," Robertson said.

"I thought overall our pace was pretty good," Baranczyk said.

The 6-foot-2 Macee Williams, who averages a double-double and is the four-time Horizon League Player of the Year, had 17 points (on 6-of-15 shooting) and 13 rebounds, but Baranczyk threw a steady diet of changing defenses at her and kept her from an offensive explosion.

Skylar Vann's return from injury last week at the Big 12 Tournament was a big boost to the Sooners, especially her defense and physical play on Macee Williams. Vann finished with 13 points and five rebounds and hit 5-of-11 shots from the field.

"Having her back tonight," Robertson said, "was huge."

"Her spark, her versatility was just something we needed tonight," Madi Williams said, "and it was something we had to have."

Ultimately, OU's memorable season continues. But Baranczyk and the Sooners will likely need a better performance in two days against the Fighting Irish to keep the magic alive.

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