CHICAGO (AP) — DePaul started off hot from behind the arc and held off gritty Oklahoma.
Amarah Coleman and Kelly Campbell each scored 17 points and fifth-seeded DePaul held off a second-half comeback by Oklahoma Friday in the opening round of the women’s NCAA Tournament.
“It’s always won by the players,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. “They make every play. They got off to a quick and efficient start. And they also held strong when that Oklahoma team made a great run inside the second half.”
Ashton Millender and Mart’e Grays both added 16 for the Blue Demons (27-7), who used 3-pointers to jump to an early lead that it never lost.
DePaul’s first five baskets came on 3s, building a 15-7 led with Coleman hitting fallaway shots to open and close the run.
“We just pressed getting off to a quick and efficient start every game,” Coleman said. “That’s what we really focused on this game. Today we came out and hit the shots that counted.”
In the second half, DePaul held a 52-36 advantage but Maddie Manning cut the Blue Demons’ lead to 65-58, hitting a reverse layup, set up by Gileysa Penzo’s looping pass.
Guard Gabbi Ortiz sparked the Sooners’ comeback.
She was the only Oklahoma player to hit a 3-pointer, making four of seven from behind the line, but it provided a boost for the Sooners, who picked up their defensive play.
Ortiz scored 18. Center Vionise Pierre-Louis led Oklahoma (16-15) with 21.
“We just weren’t executing,” Bruno said. “The reason we weren’t executing is because Oklahoma did a great job with their defense. They were switching screens. We weren’t reading screens. It was just a mess. We were a mess offensively.”
They cleaned it up late in the game, moving to the bucket and taking charge on defense.
“You earn the right to shoot the ball quickly and play at the pace they want to play by bringing your hard hats and bringing your lunch pails,” Bruno said. “And defending and rebounding earns you a right to have a party on offense. ”
The Sooners pulled off an impressive play to close the first quarter when Manning hit Shaina Pellington with a deep pass for a layup with a second remaining.
“We gave them five great looks in the first four minutes of the game and gave them a lot of juice and made them feel really confident and put us on our heels,” Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. “You come back and cut it to three, cut it to five, these valiant unbelievable plays that lead up to that and then these valleys that follow. That’s sort of been the story for this group all year. We were better when we got to go uphill for whatever reason.”
The outside shooting opened up paths to the basket. The Blue Demons took advantage with some crisp passing.
The Sooners got as close as 27-24 in the second quarter when LaNesia Williams hit consecutive 3s but a personal 7-0 run rom Millender and a 3 from Tanita Allen forced an Oklahoma timeout when DePaul moved up, 36-24.
The Blue Demons, who did not shoot a first-half free throw, connected on 10 of 17 3-pointers in the opening half. The fast pace of the half forced Oklahoma post player Pierre-Louis to the bench. She was the Sooners’ go-to player in her 16 minutes on the floor in the opening half.
DePaul connected on 12 of 24 shots from 3-point range, while Oklahoma hit four of 19 from behind the arc. … Oklahoma was one of the final teams in the tournament with a 16-14 record. It was the least amount of wins for an at-large team since 2005 when Purdue also had 16 victories. … These two teams played a thrilling 111-108 overtime game earlier this season.
DePaul hit 51.7 percent of its shots (30-for-58) and handed out 26 assists.
TAKING SOME TIME
Holding a lead, DePaul had stretches in the fourth quarter where the Blue Demons took most of the time off the 30-second clock, but it wasn’t part of Bruno’s plan.
“Our offense’s execution totally went south. And then we finally started to get some kind of offensive rhythm back very late in the game,” he said.
The Blue Demons advance to play the winner between Texas A&M and Drake in a game Sunday.