Fifth-seeded Oklahoma edges Florida Gulf Coast 73-70

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Florida Gulf Coast got off to a blazing start against Oklahoma, but the Sooners were able to weather the storm.

Skylar Vann scored 24 points and fifth-seeded Oklahoma held off No. 12 seed Florida Gulf Coast 73-70 in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament on Saturday..

“It set a fire under us,” Sooners guard Sahara Williams said. “It’s March, no one wants to go home. We stayed together, played our game and knew what we had to do.”

Oklahoma (23-9) will face No. 4 seed Indiana (25-5) in the second round on Monday night.

Payton Verhulst gave the Sooners a 72-70 lead on a turnaround jumper in the paint with 48 seconds left. After a Eagles’ turnover, Vann hit one of two free throws with 15 seconds left to push the Sooners’ lead to 73-70.

Dolly Cairns’ 3-point shot was blocked by Vann with 3 seconds left. The Eagles got the rebound with a second left. Uju Ezeudu missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have tied it.

“They got a pretty good look at a 3 but it didn’t go in, so we’re happy and we’re going to learn from that,” Verhulst said.

Williams scored 14 and Verhulst added 11 for the Sooners.

“Florida Gulf Coast led for 32 minutes, but I feel like we talk a lot as a team that you want to go on the last run and I feel like that’s what we did,” Verhulst said. “

Emani Jefferson led Florida Gulf Coast (29-5) with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Jefferson was 8-of-22 from the field. Brylee Bartram scored 14 points and Cairns added 10 for the Eagles.

Oklahoma shot 45% while holding Florida Gulf Coast to 37%. The Sooners also hit 17-of-22 free throws. Williams made 8 of 10 free throws.

The Eagles opened the fourth quarter with 3-pointers by Bartram and Jefferson to take 56-53 lead. Oklahoma used a 9-0 run to take a 67-61 advantage with 2:59 remaining.

Cairns sank a 3-pointer as the Eagles scored the next seven points to regain the led.

Following a 3-pointer by Oklahoma’s Aubrey Joens, Jefferson’s layup tied it a 70-all. Jefferson was fouled but missed the free throw.

Florida Gulf Coast led 25-11 with 1:40 left in the first quarter before Oklahoma regrouped.

“We were running around with our heads cut out,” Sooners coach Jennie Baranczyk said.

Baranczyk said as much as the Sooners prepared, it’s hard to adjust to an offense like the Eagles where everyone shoots.

The Eagles led 35-33 at the half in the back and forth contest.

Eagles coach Karl Smesko said Oklahoma started doing a better job guarding the ball screens.

“They ramped up the intensity defensively and we didn’t get the same quality of shot in the second quarter as we did in the first,” Smesko said. “When you play a team like Oklahoma, they are going to make runs at some point of the game and you just have to manage it. Hopefully, you have your own runs and come out on top. It looked like we’d have a chance to do that, but we just close it out.”

This is the third consecutive year the Eagles had been a No. 12 seed, previously beating Virginia Tech in 2022 and Washington State last year.

“We were all locked in,” Bartram said. “It didn’t end how we wanted, but we put up a fight and laid it all out there.”


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