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Big 12 run boosts Oklahoma's stock

3/15/2004 - Oklahoma Sooners

NORMAN, Okla. -- Sherri Coale pumped her fists in the air, flashed a smile and plopped back onto the couch as her Oklahoma team celebrated being seeded third Sunday in the NCAA Tournament's Midwest regional.

Then she turned to star forward Caton Hill and asked her, "What do you know about Marist? What state are they in?"

Correctly, Hill answered, "New York."

But the Sooners (23-8) know little else about Marist (20-10), which earned an automatic bid by winning the Metro Atlantic
Athletic Conference Tournament.

Coale wasn't sure what to say.

"Um, Marist College, I don't know. Or is it Marist
University?" she said. "I feel bad. I don't know."

For now, the Big 12 tournament champs are just excited to be a third seed. They'll head to Tempe, Ariz., for their first-round
game Saturday. A second-round matchup looms against Pacific 10
Conference champion Stanford or Big 12 foe Missouri, which beat
Oklahoma 77-65 in the regular season.

With back-to-back wins, the Sooners would be lined up to play two games at home with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

"You would coach all your life and never ever get to play on your home floor with an opportunity to go to the Final Four,"
Coale said. "That's one of those once-in-a-lifetime kind of
things."

Coale said she thought her team's run through the Big 12
tournament -- winning four games in five days -- was crucial. Going into the tournament, she thought the Sooners were a fifth or sixth seed. Winning the tournament put Oklahoma in position to get back to Norman without beating a higher-seeded team.

"We've put ourselves in a position to do something special and that's all you can ask to do," Coale said.

Marist has already done something special. The Poughkeepsie, N.Y., school with an enrollment of about 4,000 undergraduates earned its first bid to the NCAA women's tournament by hanging on to beat Canisius 76-74 in the MAAC finals.

Marist is led by forward Stephanie Del Preore, who averages 14.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. She had 30 points and 16 rebounds in the conference championship game. Center Maureen Magarity is Del Preore's main backup, scoring 12.9 points per game.

The Red Foxes will face an Oklahoma team that has all three of its stars clicking. Hill and guards Maria Villarroel and Dionnah Jackson each averaged more than 13 points per game in the Big 12 tournament and each topped 20 points once in the four games.

Hill said the winning streak has the Sooners in a groove.

"I just think that it's kind of gotten us where we understand
ourselves more and we've figured out how much we're capable of," Hill said "When we're playing that well going into the NCAA
Tournament, you can't ask for a better situation.

"We're playing our best basketball right now."