Saturday night, Oklahoma notched its first NCAA Tournament win since 2017.
On Monday, the Sooners will have a chance to return to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2013.
In the way of Jennie Baranczyk and her 4-seeded Sooners (25-8) stands the 5-seed, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (23-8).
The Sooners and the Fighting Irish meet in the Big Dance for the first time since 2011, and they’ve had some iconic battles in the postseason.
Back in 2008, Notre Dame dumped the Sooners out of the tournament in the second round with a 79-74 overtime victory. Two years later, OU avenged the loss, punching its ticket to the 2010 Elite 8 in a 77-72 overtime contest.
When, How to Watch:
- No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 5 Notre Dame, Monday, 5 p.m., ESPN2
Notre Dame won the rubber match in 2011, dominating OU 78-56 in the Sweet 16.
But on Monday night, neither one of the program’s legendary coaches will be involved.
Baranczyk and Niele Ivey take the places of Sherri Coale and Muffet McGraw on the sidelines. Both coaches are the architects of huge turnarounds, with Baranczyk’s coming in her first year in charge in Norman, and Ivey finding success in Year 2 at Notre Dame.
Each coach has put her own stamp on the program, ushering in a new crop of players who will decide the contest.
For the Sooners, they’ll lean on the experience of Madi Williams and Taylor Robertson, as well as talented forward Skylar Vann.
Robertson led OU with 22 points in its first round win over IUPUI, and Williams added 21 points and six rebounds of her own.
Vann, who was limited in practice all week after a scary fall in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals against Baylor, played a huge factor as well. The 5-foot-11 sophomore from Edmond, OK, added 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting off the bench in 20 minutes of action on Saturday night.
Ivey said her team is well aware of the threat both Robertson and Williams pose, and that they’ll have to put in one of their best defensive performances of the season to contain the Sooner duo.
“Robertson is the best three-point shooter in the country,” Ivey said on Sunday. “… We've never seen a shooter like Robertson, so we have a hard task. And, also, Madi Williams, she can score a variety of ways. She's an undersized forward, but she's also a guard. She can do it all. She can post. She can rebound.
“… We have a huge task on our hands. They play well in transition. They're very physical, and they play well with each other. You can tell, their chemistry, just watching them in person, I was really impressed by the entire team, the pace, their physicality and the way that they can score.”
The Irish have plenty of scoring punch to battle back against the Sooners.
Freshman Olivia Miles leads Notre Dame in scoring, averaging 13.6 points per game, and she’s riding high off posting a triple-double in the Fighting Irish’s first round contest against Massachusetts.
Standing 5-11, Miles’ size also creates a mismatch Notre Dame will hope to exploit.
“Her vision, her ability — you have to be able to guard her as a team,” Baranczyk said on Sunday. “She can put the ball in the hole. She can score in a variety of ways.
“But she just makes everyone around her better, and so that is such a challenge as an opponent.”
On top of Miles, the Irish also have forwards Maya Dodson and Maddy Westbeld, as well as guard Sonia Citron who all average double-digit scoring outputs.
The stakes will be high Monday night, but Baranczyk is going to keep doing what’s worked for OU all year long — trusting Williams and Robertson to make the difference.
“I think those two just do a phenomenal job of being able to just be themselves,” said Baranczyk, “and we've talked about that all season instead of trying to carry everybody and say, "Okay, come jump on my back.'
“… So it doesn't matter if it's in practice and it doesn't matter if it's this game in the NCAA Tournament. I think that's been really great progression for both of them this year.”
Oklahoma and Notre Dame will meet up at 5 p.m. inside the Lloyd Noble Center with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
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