A season of overachieving has culminated in the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament returning to Norman for the first time since 2010.
In her first year at Oklahoma, head coach Jennie Baranczyk guided her team to a 24-8 record, and the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee rewarded the Sooners with a 4-seed.
And if all of that feels like uncharted territory for the current OU roster, it’s because it is.
The Sooners haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2018, and haven't hosted the opening rounds in more than a decade.
When, How to Watch
- No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 13 IUPUI, Saturday, 9:00 p.m., ESPNU
Ana Llanusa was around for OU’s last trip to the Big Dance, but a season-ending injury will keep her on the sidelines on Saturday night, meaning the veteran-laden Sooners will be in somewhat uncharted territory.
For Baranczyk, the lack of tournament experience on the current roster isn’t a barrier, but an opportunity for the team to continue to reach new heights.
“Sometimes there's a beauty in the unknown, and I think that's really where we're going,” Baranczyk said during her press conference on Friday. “There's not, OK, this is what this year was like and so then you compare it to the next year and then it's this is what happened here. We have no idea.
“I think sometimes there's a really fun element in that, and that's where we're at.”
Seniors Taylor Robertson and Madi Williams aren’t worried about how many tournament games they have under their belt, as they both said they were just happy to finally take part in the NCAA Tournament instead of watching from home.
“Yeah, for the babies, they haven't been here,” Williams said on Friday. “I’m not even sure how much of it that they've watched.
“But I know that for me, the previous years just watching the tournament, I just know that that made me want to get here even more. I just know what kind of energy they have and I want to be able to feel that kind of stuff.”
Robertson said the key to success on Saturday night will be to stick to the measured approach the team has taken into every game this year.
“We're just trying to treat it just as another game,” Robertson said. “Everything is still the same. We're just going to try to be us and just try to keep everybody as level-headed and steady as we can throughout the whole game and the whole process.”
Baranczyk’s team welcomes in the 13-seeded IUPUI Jaguars and the reigning four-time Horizon League Player of the Year in Macee Williams.
The 6-foot-2 center comes into the weekend averaging 18.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
Talented bigs like NaLyssa Smith and Ayoka Lee have given the Sooners fits this season, something the team is well aware of headed thot the bout with the Jaguars.
“I think Macee Williams, she's a smart player,” said Madi Williams, “and she's patient with the ball, and her teammates kind of feed off of her energy and the things that she does for them.
“I’m interested to see how she compares to other bigs that we've played against.”
Even with the threat of Williams, Baranczyk said if her team can take care of business on the boards, they’ll still be able to get out and transition and play the style of basketball they excel at.
“I've liked our rebounding a little bit at times, and we still need to work on that, and obviously our pace,” Baranczyk said. “There's times where we are at a great pace and we're — there's a difference of being at a great pace and it's a quick shot and being at a great pace and taking a great shot. So those are some of the things I think we're still focused on.”
Oklahoma will get its chance to punch a ticket to the second round on Sunday night as tip-off between the Sooners and the Jaguars is scheduled for 9 p.m. at the Lloyd Noble Center.
“It's a basketball game, and we get to play at home,” Baranczyk said. “How cool is that, that that's our first tournament experience is to be able to play at home? I think it's incredible.”
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