DALLAS — When the 17-minute mark of the second half rolled around, Oklahoma found itself in nearly the same position it was in fewer than 24 hours ago — down by more than 20 points on the Big 12 Tournament floor.
Against West Virginia, the Sooners staged an epic rally, overcoming the largest deficit by a winner of a conference tournament game.
But that wasn't possible against such a crisp Iowa State squad in the semifinals, with the Cyclones dominating nearly every facet of an easy 79-60 rout of the Sooners at American Airlines Center to advance to Monday night's championship game against No. 1 Baylor.
“They have a front line that absolutely annihilated us,” coach Sherri Coale said. “ … They manhandled us on the inside and had great poise on the perimeter and knocked down open looks. And we didn't do the same.
“We didn't come with the same aggression on the interior. We didn't knock down perimeter shots, open ones, the way they did.”
Here's the breakdown: Iowa State outscored OU 42-22 in the paint. The Sooners lost the rebounding battle 49-28, including a 16-9 deficit on the offensive boards. And OU shot just 35.5 percent, including a 7-of-24 mark from 3-point distance.
Perhaps most challenging for the Sooners was the Cyclones' balance. Guards Nikki Moody and Brynn Williamson combined for 15 assists and two turnovers. And posts Hallie Christofferson, Chelsea Poppens and Anna Prins combined for 56 points, including a career-best 32 from Prins.
“Their post players are just really strong, and they have a good mind about position,” OU's Joanna McFarland said. “If you let them get deep, they're going to score. That's the thing, you have to do your work early … they just really had that in their mind to be aggressive and get us deep.”
OU stayed with the Cyclones for the game's opening minutes, with a 3-pointer by McFarland giving the Sooners a 10-7 lead at the 16:22 mark. But then OU went nearly eight minutes without scoring, allowing Iowa State to build a 14-point advantage.
That lead grew to 22 by the end of the first half and to 26 on a layup by Nicole Blaskowsky with 12:58 remaining.
“We just went bone dry, just like (Saturday) night,” Coale said. “And that's really, really hard, to summon that emotion to get back up that hill again. You need made baskets to give you some energy and some life, and we just couldn't get a ball to roll in.”
McFarland tallied 12 points and nine rebounds for OU, while Morgan Hook also scored 12 and added five assists. Aaryn Ellenberg totaled 11 points but made just three of her 16 shots from the floor.
Coale said after the game that her team plans to take a few much-needed days off before the NCAA Tournament field is announced March 18.
And she plans to use the overall weekend — both the dramatic comeback against West Virginia and Sunday's struggles against Iowa State — as another teaching tool in a season that has largely been about growth when faced with adversity.
“It took us until the end of February to figure out how to be mentally tough together when we're really tired,” Coale said, “when we're really physically worn down, when you've faced good opponent — no, great opponent — after great opponent after great opponent. And we figured that out.
“We put that all together, and we were really good against Kansas and we were really good against Texas Tech and we really good in the second half (Saturday) night against West Virginia.
“This quick turnaround and the great performance by Iowa State gave us yet another level of something to play through. When we get to the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, we'll be harder and better for it. It was a golden opportunity and I think if handled in the right way, it can be a great thing that happened to us.”