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RECORD: 24 - 9
REGION: Midwest SEED: 3
COACH: Sherri Coale CONFERENCE: Big 12
Road to the Final Four ...................................................................................
Quick senior guard Maria Villarroel, who was benched during the Sooners' four-game losing streak in January, has been very strong down the stretch run. Freshman post player Leah Rush has developed a lot of confidence in her offense, and Beky Preston provides defensive help inside. But the star player -- though she's rarely credited as such -- is guard Dionnah Jackson, who most coaches call the best defender in the Big 12. Jackson has stopped the best of the league, from post players to wings to guards. Plus, she's an offensive threat herself, especially driving to the basket. The team has taken on coach Sherri Coale's positive personality, and Caton Hill is an excellent leader. The Sooners have to go on the road for the early rounds, but if they win they are host to the Midwest Regional.
|PLAYER TO WATCH|
Even Hill poked fun at herself when she started to struggle a bit earlier this season. But come on -- All-Big 12 honorable mention? That seems a little short -- even in the talent-laden Big 12 -- for such an integral part of OU's success. Hill's not as fast or dynamic as some of her teammates, but don't discount the leadership she brings -- and how many other players out there have been on the court in the NCAA title game? And her stats are impressive. The 6-foot-1 forward averaged a team-best 6.1 boards in the regular season and ranked second in scoring with 12.4 points per game. She's also OU's best 3-point shooter, hitting roughly 39 percent from beyond the arc.
ANALYSIS BY ESPN'S STACEY DALES-SCHUMAN
Coach Sherri Coale is sitting in a good situation. Her relatively young team started to "figure things out" during middle part of the Big 12 season. That is, the Sooners are clicking at just the right time and she and her staff couldn't be more pleased.
A year ago, it appeared as though Oklahoma had some sort of ACL curse, an epidemic of sorts. And then just one season later, the 2002-03 Big 12 co-Freshman of the Year Chelsi Welch became the latest ACL casualty.
In typical Coale fashion, however, the Sooners battled on. The team would move forward to finish the month of February with a 6-2 record, and then storm through the Big 12 tournament in Dallas with victories over Texas A&M, Colorado and Kansas State.
Though led by seasoned senior veteran power forward Caton Hill, the only starter remaining from Oklahoma's 2002 Final Four squad, Dionnah Jackson has developed into a versatile standout who can do just about anything necessary for the Sooners to excel. Jackson epitomizes the term "underrated," but is slowly earning esteem throughout the conference for her on-court antics of hard work and pressure play.
Senior guard Maria Villarroel continues to stump opponents with her unprecedented quickness and grasshopper-like rebounding, while redshirt freshman Erin Higgins (another former ACL casualty) is emerging as a brilliant marathon shooter. Additionally, freshman forward Leah Rush, a gritty player with versatile skills, is on track to have a showtime-like career for the crimson and cream.
Oklahoma must continue to peak and use its depth, speed and balance to defeat opponents. The Sooners must execute their changing defenses, something they typically do very well, to control tempo and momentum.
Ultimately, they must have the leadership necessary to stampede through an NCAA Tournament, and Hill is the prime runner for the job.
If the Big 12 tournament was any indication as to how the Sooners are feeling right about now, be certain that they'll make some boisterous noise in the Big Dance.