KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Oklahoma's youth explains the inconsistency. But when OU's freshmen play like they did Thursday night at Municipal Auditorium, the Sooners' ceiling is much higher as women’s basketball coach Sherri Coale likes to say.
Led by freshmen Sharane Campbell and Kaylon Williams, the Sooners stormed back with one of their best halves of the season to defeat Missouri 70-59 in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals.
Campbell scored a game-high 22 points, her most productive outing in more than a month. Williams recorded her second career double-double with 12 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
“When me and Sharane score like that, it takes some of the pressure off our veterans like Whitney (Hand) and Aaryn (Ellenberg),” Williams said. “When that happens, we have so many weapons, it's hard to guard all of us.”
After averaging 10 points the first three months, Campbell, selected the conference's Sixth Man of the Year, averaged only 3.2 points the final six games of the regular season.
“You sometimes think postseason awards don't mean much, but you tell a kid you're the Sixth Man of the Year and suddenly they go, ‘OK, here we go,’” Coale said. “I think the validation helped her see she's done a lot of really, really good things.”
Freshmen sometimes hit a wall due to a longer, more intense season compared to high school.
“Most definitely,” Campbell said. “I don't want to say I lost myself. It was more of getting my confidence back. It's hard to explain.”
Coale stressed part of the reason her two freshmen accounted for nearly half of the Sooners’ offense Thursday night is Hand and Ellenberg are almost always the opponent’s defensive focus.
“Other guys are going to get lots of opportunities with one-on-one coverage with maybe not even the second- or third-best defender,” Coale said. “You have to take advantage of that. Those guys getting all those minutes (all season) really put them in position to contribute the way they did today.”
Coming off a first-round win over Oklahoma State, No. 10 seeded Missouri roared out to a 13-2 lead.
The Tigers built their largest lead (35-23) in the opening seconds of the second half.
The Sooners answered with a 15-0 run to take their first lead with 13 minutes left.
OU would never trail again.
The Sooners pushed their advantage to 47-40, eventually leading by as many as 12 points.
“I don't think we were playing that bad,” Hand said. “We just needed to get out quicker to shooters and knock down some shots. We got lost in the second half, just playing, not worried about losing, not being tight.”
A dominant second half was one of the Sooners' best halves of the season.
OU shot 58 percent after intermission, committed only two turnovers and held Missouri to 31 percent shooting.
“That's how you have to play in this month,” Coale said. “The difference is knowing you can do that and doing it. There's nothing like feeling it. After a half like that they feel it. We hope that can be a springboard.”