Upsets by OU, Kansas cap big day for Big 12
Oklahoma's Sherri Coale and Kansas' Bonnie Henrickson both knew the pain of losing key players to ACL injuries this season. And both also knew the pain of having to deal with Big 12 giant Baylor, which for the second year in a row went unbeaten in league play.
But Monday night, the two veteran Big 12 coaches knew the joy of their teams pulling upsets to send them into the Sweet 16. The sixth-seeded Sooners got the first upset of the evening, beating No. 3 seed UCLA 85-72 on a neutral court in Columbus, Ohio.
That sends Oklahoma -- which has overcome an injury-plagued season -- back home to the Oklahoma City Regional, which will be played just 20 miles from the Sooners' Norman campus. They will face No. 2 seed Tennessee.
Then later Monday, the No. 12 seed Jayhawks -- who were essentially the last at-large team to get into this NCAA field -- made it to their second consecutive Sweet 16, with a 75-69 victory over No. 4 seed South Carolina.
Kansas became just the second No. 12 seed to reach the regional semifinals; San Francisco did it in 1996 by upsetting first Florida, and then Duke.
The Jayhawks "created" their neutral court Monday by defeating the host school, Colorado, in the first round. KU was 18-13 coming into the NCAA tournament after an 8-10 record in the Big 12. Kansas had lost five of its last seven games entering the Big Dance, and the two wins in that stretch were against last-place TCU.
But the selection committee gave KU the benefit of the doubt, and the Jayhawks then quieted their doubters. Led by senior Monica Engelman's career-high 27 points, they won their second game in a row on the Coors Center court that KU used to visit every season until the Buffaloes left the Big 12 for the Pac-12 in 2011.
Kansas will join another "old" Big 12 team -- longtime conference mate Nebraska -- in the Norfolk Regional. The No. 6 seed Huskers, now in the Big Ten, also got an upset win Monday. They defeated yet another former Big 12 team, No. 3 seed Texas A&M, 74-63 on the Aggies' home court. Texas A&M was the SEC tournament champion this year.
The Big 12 and Big Ten might have the other two representatives in Norfolk, too, but that would also take big upsets. Tuesday, No. 9 seed Iowa faces No. 1 Notre Dame (on the Hawkeyes' home court) and No. 7 seed Oklahoma State plays No. 2 Duke in Durham, N.C.
A closer look at OU overcoming the odds
Every time you think Oklahoma's Sherri Coale has done her best coaching job, she seems to top it in degree of difficulty. Getting the Sooners to the Sweet 16 in this injury-plagued season is definitely some top-notch work for the Sooners' mentor.
The Sooners have made three appearances in the Women's Final Four, the most recent in 2010. That one was particularly impressive considering Coale had graduated the Paris twins, Courtney and Ashley, from the 2009 Final Four team.
But this season, getting to the regional semifinals might be just as impressive. The adversity started last spring, when Coale's best friend and longtime assistant coach, Jan Ross, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Coale and the Sooners rallied around Ross, whom they all considered the team's "rock."
Ross persevered through treatment and never missed any bench time for the Sooners, and they were excited as a unit to start this season. But then the injuries hit.
The Sooners lost post players Kaylon Williams (Achilles tendon) and Lyndsey Cloman (back) before the season began. Then guards Maddie Manning and Whitney Hand both were lost to ACL injuries in November and December, respectively.
Williams, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, was playing extremely well in the preseason. Her absence put even more pressure on McFarland -- who is the third sister in her family to play Division I basketball in the Big 12 -- and junior Nicole Griffin inside, and they have responded.
Manning was a promising freshman guard who had worked her way into the starting lineup, and at 6-2 also would have helped with the Sooners' rebounding. Her loss was very rough for Coale.
But of all the injuries that Coale has dealt with as a coach, none was more emotionally devastating than losing Hand. The senior guard had already missed a season with an ACL injury. And Hand is as close to a replica of Coale -- in regard to her competitiveness and personality -- as has ever played at Oklahoma.
There were a lot of tears shed at Oklahoma when Hand went down. But the Sooners regrouped, and re-focused. Hand became like another assistant coach for Oklahoma, which finished tied for third in the Big 12.
Now, the Sooners head back to their home-away-from-home in Oklahoma City. They'll have to start worrying about the Lady Vols soon. But at least for Monday, they can celebrate overcoming a lot of odds to make another Sweet 16.
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Monica Engelman, Kansas: She came into the second round averaging 9.4 points. Monday, the Jayhawks' senior guard tripled it, scoring a career-high 27 points to help 12th-seeded Kansas knock off No. 4 seed South Carolina. Engelman hit 10 of 18 shots from the field, adding five rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Second Round Schedule
Tuesday on ESPN2 and WatchESPN
• Delaware vs. North Carolina, 7:05 p.m.
• Oklahoma State vs. Duke*, 7:10 p.m.
• Louisville vs. Purdue^, 7:10 p.m.
• Dayton vs. Kentucky, 7:15 p.m.
• * Will air on ESPNU
• ^ Will air on ESPNEWS/ESPN3
Tuesday on ESPN2 and WatchESPN
• Florida State vs. Baylor, 9:35 p.m.
• Iowa vs. Notre Dame*, 9:40 p.m.
• LSU vs. Penn State, 9:45 p.m.
• Michigan vs. Stanford, 9:50 p.m.
• * Will also air on ESPNU
All tipoffs ET.