Red Storm Scraps Past OU to Sweet Sixteen

NORMAN, Okla. — The Sooners were oh-so-close to making their fourth straight Sweet Sixteen, but in the end, it was not to be.

St. John's made the plays down the stretch, and OU simply didn't, as the Red Storm ousted the home crowd boosted Sooners 74-70 Tuesday night at Lloyd Noble Center.

"I want to congratulate a very tough St. John's team," said OU head coach Sherri Coale. "I thought they played extremely well tonight. They made plays when they had to make plays. They are well coached. They fought. They acted like they belonged. This was not an easy environment to perform in and they were tough enough to get it done. Congratulations to them."

When the Red Storm needed a bucket, they got it, mostly in the form of guards Eugeneia McPherson and Shenneika Smith, who finished with a game-high 21 and 18, respectively.

When they needed a rebound, despite getting out-boarded 37-31, they got it.

And when they needed a defensive stand, they got that as well.

All in the final minute and change.

Leading 72-70 with 1:21 to play, McPherson missed a jumper, but forward Amber Thompson came up with the rebound for St. John's and was fouled.

Thompson converted 1-of-2 free throws, which left the door open for OU to tie it with a three, but the Red Storm forced a miss out of the hands of Sooner guard Aaryn Ellenberg from beyond the arc.

After star St. John's point guard Nadirah McKenith made another free throw to extend the lead to the game's final margin, the Red Storm bothered OU into four misses in the final 12 seconds.

Overall, the Sooners missed their final five shots after guard Morgan Hook hit a corner three as part of her 10 points to bring OU within two at 70-68 with 1:57 remaining.

"I thought down the stretch we had some good shots," Coale said. "They just didn't go in. Some close ones, some wide open threes and some really good shots that just didn't go in. You've got to make those to win games. They did. They made them. Their point guard is tough and heady and she made the big plays late."

It all came after she banged her head on the court minutes earlier and went to the bench woozy.

But she came back and willed her team in the waning moments.

"I just had to gather myself and try to get myself together because I needed to go back out there on the court and help my team," McKenith said.

That she did.

Outside of the discrepancy in execution down the stretch on both sides, an overlying them of this one was St. John's ability to pressure OU into a ton of turnovers.

The Red Storm capitalized with 21 points off 19 Sooner turnovers.

Nine of those came in the first half and 10 in the second.

"That's been our weakness all year," said OU guard Whitney Hand, who led OU with 16 points. "I think we turned it over 19 times and we don't win very often when we do that. I think they had 20 more shots than we did. When we got the shots up, we scored. It was just dumb stuff. We have talked about it all year.

"We executed well when we actually did our stuff. I think you did see some growth. The turnovers were bad, but the other stuff was really good."

In fact, the Sooners actually outshot the Red Storm 47.9 percent to 41.5 percent, though St. John's put up 65 shots to just 47 for the Sooners.

And they had 16 assists to just 14 for the victors.

So, the execution was there, but just in spurts because of St. John's pressure defense.

Something else the Red Storm did that worked in their favor was bang the Sooners around in the post.

"Yeah, it was pretty physical," said OU center Nicole Griffin, who finished as the third Sooner in double figures with 12 points and five rebounds. "They were trying to keep me from catching the ball on the post. They were trying to not let me through in the paint. Once we, Jelena [Cerina] and I, caught the ball we looked to score. I think we did a good job once we got the ball and got in position. I think that's what got them in foul trouble."

The Sooners did force three Red Storm players into four fouls and made another, forward Mary Nwachukwu, foul out.

But Hook battled some foul trouble of her own.

With 15:54 left, she picked up her fourth foul and had to sit on the bench for 10 minutes while freshmen guards DaShawn Harden and Sharane Campbell anchored the troops along with Hand.

"I think that shows the year that we have had," Hand said of her freshmen teammates picking up the slack. "It has just been you kind of run into a wall you push through the wall. Their performance was kind of the outcome of that. The ability of our girls to step up in big time minutes. I thought DaShawn did a really good job and Sharane really did a good job. It's really positive for years to come. Those are big time minutes in big time games."

As a matter of fact, the Sooners return 12 of their 13 players next year, with Cerina leaving as the lone graduating senior.

So, valuable experience has been gained and comes back.

From that standpoint, it's not all bad for the Sooners, who finish the year 21-13.

"I'm really proud of our team," Coale said. "They have battled and proven a lot of people wrong time and time again. It was challenge after challenge after challenge. Nothing was easy. The young guys have grown and gotten better, and we got them all back. We get the two who were injured [guard Jasmine Hartman and center Lyndsey Cloman] and a couple freshmen coming in. Good times ahead."

For now, though, the Sooners are left with the sting of a season-ending defeat on their home court.

Follow me at or

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories