Saturday, March 30, 2002

Oklahoma rises from grave to finals

Once-endangered Sooners whip Duke in semifinal

The Associated Press

Oklahoma's Rosalind Ross had 26 points and 10 rebounds.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        SAN ANTONIO — From near extinction to national title game. Oklahoma's amazing rebuilding project just keeps getting better. Twelve years after the school nearly disbanded a program in disarray, the Sooners earned a shot at their first NCAA championship with a 86-71 win over Duke in the national semifinals Friday night.

        Rosalind Ross scored a career-high 26 points, hitting four of eight 3-pointers and grabbing 10 rebounds for the Sooners, who rushed out to an early lead and held off Duke's second-half rally.

        “This is the moment we've all been waiting for. To get to the Final Four and now we're in the championship game,” Ross said in the Sooners' locker room. “When I came in here, I wanted to cry.”

        The Sooners (32-3), who were just 5-22 in coach Sherri Coale's first season six years ago, will play Connecticut on Sunday night in the championship game. The top-ranked Huskies beat Tennessee 79-56 in the second semifinal to improve to 38-0.

        “I don't think the championship trophy has been sent to Storrs,” Coale said, referring to the small Connecticut town that is home to the Huskies. “If it's all right with the rest of you guys, we're going to play for it.”

        Iciss Tillis scored 19 to lead Duke (31-4), which cut an 18-point deficit to two in the second half but couldn't take the lead before the Sooners pulled away late with a 22-5 run.

        The Sooners shot 46 percent from the floor and made 21 of 24 free throws.

        The loss snapped Duke's 22-game winning streak. It was the second-longest winning streak in the nation behind UConn.

        In 1990, Oklahoma officials had decided to drop the women's basketball program that was drawing only dozens of fans and was expensive to keep. But an outcry from coaches around the country prompted school officials to resurrect it within days.

        The Sooners played Friday in front of 29,619 at the Alamodome — the largest crowd for a women's college basketball game.

        Now, the Sooners will be the first Big 12 team to play for the national title in the league's six-year history.

        “I just felt we had great balance all along the way,” said Stacy Dales, the All-American who is considered the key player behind OU's resurgence under Coale.

        The Sooners were solid on defense. Frustrated by Oklahoma's defense, Duke had to slow down its transition into a halfcourt game.

        Instead of pushing the ball inside, the Blue Devils started settling for long-range jumpers that seldom found their mark. Duke went just 1-of-11 from the floor in the Sooners' 20-2 run.

        “You can tell they have four seniors on the floor most times,” Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. “We didn't make some of the smartest decisions we've ever made.”

        OKLAHOMA (32-3) — Hill 5-11 3-3 14, Talbert 3-5 2-2 8, Ross 7-14 8-10 26, Caufield 4-13 4-4 12, Dales 6-13 2-2 17, Jackson 3-4 2-2 9, Selmon 0-0 0-0 0, Simon 0-0 0-0 0, Shoush 0-1 0-0 0, Casey 0-0 0-1 0, Luce 0-0 0-0 0, Scott 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-61 21-24 86.

        DUKE (31-4) — Matyasovsky 3-5 0-0 6, Currie 3-10 2-2 8, Tillis 8-20 2-4 19, Krapohl 1-2 0-0 3, Beard 6-15 2-2 15, Gingrich 1-6 0-0 3, Mosch 1-4 1-2 3, Whitley 5-11 4-4 14. Totals 28-73 11-14 71.

        Halftime—Oklahoma 40, Duke 28. 3-Point Goals—Oklahoma 9-25 (Ross 4-8, Dales 3-8, Jackson 1-1, Hill 1-5, Shoush 0-1, Caufield 0-2), Duke 4-20 (Krapohl 1-2, Beard 1-4, Gingrich 1-4, Tillis 1-4, Matyasovsky 0-1, Mosch 0-1, Whitley 0-4). Fouled out—Beard. Rebounds—Oklahoma 43 (Ross 10), Duke 38 (Tillis 9). Assists— Oklahoma 15 (Dales 5), Duke 19 (Beard 5). Total fouls—Oklahoma 14, Duke 18. A—29,619.


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