By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
DALLAS - When it comes to halftime speeches, this could have produced eye rolling but instead of producing another record comeback.
With her team trailing West Virginia by 19 points, Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale reminded the Sooners that OU had set an NCAA record by overcoming a 26-point halftime deficit in a victory at Cal in 2008. An impartial observer at the American Airlines Center would have noted that the Sooners couldn't hit and the Mountaineers couldn't miss in the first 20 minutes.
A comeback seemed improbable to everyone but the seven Sooners who saw action in Oklahoma's 65-64 victory over a stunned West Virginia team. The sixth-seeded Mountaineers had a 22-point lead with 17:15 remaining but couldn't hold off the second-seeded Sooners.
Oklahoma (22-9) advances to Sunday's semifinal and will face No. 2 seed Iowa State, a 77-62 winner over Kansas. The first semifinal at 1 p.m. Sunday will match No. 5 seed Oklahoma State against top-seeded Baylor. Both semifinals will air on FSN.
"These guys are just a bunch of believers," Coale said. "They just believe. They believe they are supposed to win. They believe they are going to win. They are not always sure how it's going to happen."
In the first half, Oklahoma shot 24.1 percent, missed 13 of 14 3-pointers and was 10-of-18 on free throws. The Sooners went 6:38 without a field goal. West Virginia took advantage by scoring in transition and making 8-of-14 3-point attempts.
"At halftime I thought we were down 17," Coale said. "I come out, we're down 19 ... I'm like, wait a minute, geez, it was worse than I thought."
It got better because Oklahoma's defense held West Virginia scoreless for nearly six minutes (from 15:13 to 9:35). When the Mountaineers ended that drought, the lead had been shrink-wrapped to 10 points.
That's exactly the scenario West Virginia coach Mike Carey worried about at halftime.
"I said we still need to be aggressive, be aggressive, be aggressive; and keep attacking, keep attacking, keep attacking," he said. "Because they are going to make runs at us."
The Sooners went on a 31-7 run in just over 12 minutes. Aaryn Ellenberg's free throws at 5:09 gave OU a 60-58 lead. The last five minutes then came down to the last five seconds. Off an inbounds play, point guard Morgan Hook was supposed to drive for the rim but her path was blocked and she found a wide open Sharane Campbell who was fouled at the rim as she was shooting.
Campbell missed the first but made the second with 5.5 to play. West Virginia got a clean look from the left corner on a final shot but the ball found iron instead of net.
"We come, we have a wide-open shot and miss it," Carey said. "I mean, sometimes you've got to be lucky. But we weren't. And they won."
The Mountaineers went 9-9 in Big 12 and are now 17-13 overall. Carey is convinced his team is firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble. He and his players faced a late night/early morning flight back to Morgantown plus lost an hour of sleep with the daylight saving time change.
The Sooners spent a happy night in Big D.
"The final, I don't know, 15, 16 minutes of that game, pretty special," Coale said. "I can't say it was beautiful basketball, but it was pretty gritty and pretty special, because those kids just absolutely refuse to lose."