NCAA women hoops: Oklahoma beats Kentucky to earn Final Four berth
By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Oklahoma withstood early adversity, composed itself and took control with balance, hustle and grit.
In a game that mirrored their season, the Sooners pulled through. Now they're going back to the Final Four.
Nyeshia Stevenson scored 31 points and Oklahoma blew past fourth-seeded Kentucky 88-68 on Tuesday night to earn its second straight trip to the Final Four.
Amanda Thompson added 17 points and 14 rebounds for the third-seeded Sooners (27-10), who'll face Stanford on Sunday in San Antonio.
The Wildcats stormed out to a 17-4 lead, only to watch as the Sooners rallied to go ahead 43-39 by halftime. Oklahoma opened the second half on a 15-5 run, then scored 11 straight points to jump ahead 69-50 with 6:30 left.
Victoria Dunlap had 31 points and 12 rebounds to lead Kentucky (28-8), which was seeking its first trip to the Final Four. The Wildcats stunned top-seeded Nebraska to reach their first regional final since 1982, but they couldn't complete the Big 12 sweep in Kansas City.
After a brutal start, the second half belonged to the Sooners.
"Well I don't know what that was for the first five minutes, these kids have fought back all year. It's sort of their identity," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. "Their confidence was unwavering. I give them credit for keeping their head and getting out of it."
Stevenson — who finished one point shy of a career high — followed a 3 with a transition layup to give Oklahoma its first double-digit edge, 54-44. Robinson then hit a layup, and Thompson's open jumper put the Sooners ahead by 14.
Kentucky scored six quick points, but that would be about it for the Wildcats.
"Nyeshia's performance tonight was unbelievable," Coale said.
Oklahoma responded with a series of knockout blows, as Jasmine Hartman's steal and layup put Oklahoma back ahead 64-50 with 7:41 left. Stevenson then buried another 3 to give the Sooners an insurmountable a 19-point lead.
Kentucky's speed and quickness had Oklahoma on its heels early, though.
Freshman A'dia Mathies had a transition jumper, a steal and an assist in the books 30 seconds in, and Amber Smith's no-look dish to Mathies put the Wildcats ahead 8-0 and forced Coale to call timeout.
It took six minutes — and six turnovers — before the Sooners hit a field goal. By then, Kentucky's lead was already in double digits — and it appeared that Oklahoma's fears about the Wildcats speed and quickness were coming to pass.
But Oklahoma soon found its comfort level, erasing a 13-point deficit in the blink of an eye. Danielle Robinson, who had 16 points and six assists, converted a 3-point play off a steal gave Oklahoma its first lead, 28-25, with 7:41 left in the first half, and she added a late layup to put the Sooners ahead by four at halftime.
Of Coale's three Final Four teams, these resilient Sooners just might be the most remarkable.
Oklahoma lost the frontcourt duo of Courtney and Ashley Paris and were picked to finish fifth in the brutal Big 12. The loss of guard Whitney Hand to a knee injury early in the season cast further doubts over their national title hopes. But Oklahoma survived the nation's toughest schedule — all 10 of its losses came against teams that made the NCAA tournament — and was at its best in Kansas City.
The Sooners pulled off a mild upset of second-seeded Notre Dame on Sunday night, as Stevenson's 3 late in overtime helped give them a hard-fought 77-72 win. Oklahoma then blew the doors off the speedy Wildcats in the second half, outscoring them 45-29 in the second half and shooting an astounding 61.5 from the field for the game.
The Sooners will be joined by Baylor in San Antonio, marking the first-ever Final Four with two Big 12 teams.
Tuesday's loss was a bitter end to the most successful season Kentucky's ever had.
Dunlap blossomed from good to great in 2009-10, earning the SEC's Player of the Year nod, and Mathies — the SEC's Freshman of the Year — gave the Wildcats a much-needed spark.
Few gave them a chance to knock off top-seeded Nebraska in the regional semis. But the Wildcats overwhelmed the Cornhuskers with their speed, quickness and pressure, making it apparent that their victory was no upset.
Oklahoma could run with Kentucky, though, and the Wildcats seemed to run out of gas once the Sooners dug themselves out of that early hole. Kentucky shot just 23.1 percent in the second half and had just six assists against 14 turnovers
Smith and Mathies each had nine points for Kentucky.