Watching her Oklahoma players interact at the hotel before their second-round NCAA game against UCLA, coach Sherri Coale had a feeling that her Sooners were ready to play their best game of the season.
With Aaryn Ellenberg scoring 27 points from the perimeter and Joanna McFarland handling things inside with 20 points and 16 rebounds, the Sooners rolled past UCLA 85-72 on Monday night to earn a trip back to their home state for the regional semifinals.
Sharane Campbell added 19 points and Nicole Griffin had 10 for the Sooners, who never trailed after a 15-3 first-half spurt.
Coale, in her 17th season as a head coach, knows that teams that stick together off the court usually do it on the court, too. She could sense that they were committed to playing for each other — for as long as possible.
"They wanted to keep the (common) room so they could watch the (NCAA) games together," Coale said. "They want to spend time together. We began yesterday talking about having one more week together. We didn't talk about winning the game, we didn't talk about going to the Sweet 16. We talked about having one more week together. You could see it just sort of bubbling within them. They were going to make that happen."
Sixth-seeded Oklahoma (24-10) will face No. 2 seed Tennessee (26-7) — a 68-52 winner over Creighton — in Oklahoma City on Sunday.
"It's very, very exciting to be going home," McFarland said. "We're 40 minutes away so hopefully we'll have a very big fan base."
Monday's game was a rematch of each team's second game this season, when UCLA came to Norman, Okla., and beat the Sooners 86-80 on Nov. 14. In that game, the Bruins bludgeoned the Sooners with their inside game, outrebounding them 56-34 and turning 24 offensive boards into 23 second-chance points.
But on this night, the Sooners fought on relatively even terms inside and outscored the Bruins 33-6 from 3-point range, hitting 11 of 27 to UCLA's 2 of 12. Three times in the last 3 minutes, it was McFarland who grabbed offensive rebounds to take time off the clock and add to the lead.
"We just played together and we played with a lot of emotion," McFarland said. "We refused to lose. It was all or nothing. It was a team effort and it just felt amazing the whole night."
Atonye Nyingifa had 18 points, Markel Walker 14, Jasmine Dixon 13 and Alyssia Brewer and Thea Lemberger 10 apiece for third-seeded UCLA (26-8), which fell to 11-12 all-time in NCAA tournament play.
"We felt like were chasing them from the start of the game," Bruins coach Cori Close said.
CONNECTICUT 77, VANDERBILT 44
STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 22 points and the top-seeded Huskies advanced to the regional semifinals of the women's NCAA tournament for the 20th consecutive season.
Freshman Breanna Stewart added 14 points and Stefanie Dolson had 12 points and nine rebounds for Connecticut (31-4), which is seeking its sixth straight Final Four and eighth national championship.
Tiffany Clarke scored 16 for No. 8 seed Vandy (21-12), which lost three of its last six games.
UConn will play Maryland in the semifinals Saturday.
MARYLAND 74, MICHIGAN ST. 49
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Alyssa Thomas scored 28 points and Maryland defeated Michigan State to advance to the round of 16 in the NCAA women's tournament for a second straight year.
The fourth-seeded Terrapins (26-7) reached the round of eight a year ago.
Thomas had 18 points at halftime to lead the Terrapins to an 11-point cushion. Her layup with 15 minutes left gave her 25 points and put Maryland up 46-30.
Annalise Pickrel and Becca Mills each scored 12 for No. 5 seed Michigan State (25-9).
OKLAHOMA CITY REGIONAL
TENNESSEE 68, CREIGHTON 52
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Kamiko Williams scored 15 points and Tennessee pulled away in the second half to beat Creighton and advance to the regional semifinals.
The second-seeded Lady Vols (26-7) improved to 52-0 in NCAA tournament games on their home floor. They will play Oklahoma on Sunday.
Alexis Akin-Otiko scored 12 points for No. 10 seed Creighton (25-8), which was denied its first appearance in a regional semifinal.
OKLAHOMA 85, UCLA 72
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Aaryn Ellenberg scored 27 points and Joanna McFarland handled things inside with 20 points and 16 rebounds to lead Oklahoma past UCLA, earning a trip back to the Sooners' home state for the round of 16.
Sharane Campbell added 19 points and Nicole Griffin had 10 for the sixth-seeded Sooners (24-10), who never trailed after a 15-3 first-half spurt.
Atonye Nyingifa had 18 points, Markel Walker 14, Jasmine Dixon 13, and Alyssia Brewer and Thea Lemberger 10 apiece for third-seeded UCLA (26-8), which fell to 11-12 in NCAA tournament play.
NEBRASKA 74, TEXAS A&M 63
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Jordan Hooper scored 21 points and Lindsey Moore had 20 points and 10 assists to lead Nebraska to the regional semifinals.
The sixth-seeded Cornhuskers (25-8) used two big runs in the first half to build the lead and never trailed in the second half to earn their first trip to the round of 16 since 2010. Nebraska will face the winner of Tuesday's game between second-seeded Duke and No. 7 Oklahoma State.
Third-seeded Texas A&M (25-10) was led by Adrienne Pratcher's 17 points.
KANSAS 75, SOUTH CAROLINA 69
BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Monica Engelman scored a career-high 27 points and Kansas became just the second No. 12 seed to advance to the round of 16 with an upset of fourth-seeded South Carolina.
Angel Goodrich added 20 points for the Jayhawks (20-13), who joined San Francisco in 1996 as the only No. 12 seeds to follow up a win in the opening round with another in the second.
The Jayhawks move on to face the winner of Tuesday's game between top seed Notre Dame and ninth-seeded Iowa in the regional semifinals Sunday.
Ashley Bruner and Aleighsa Welch each scored 16 points for the Gamecocks, who were denied their highest win total since joining the Southeastern Conference in 1991-92.
GEORGIA 65, IOWA ST. 60
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Shacobia Barbee scored 20 points, including a key 3-pointer with 2:03 left, and No. 4 seed Georgia held off Iowa State's furious second-half rally to reach the round of 16.
Georgia (27-6) is back in the regional semifinals for the 20th time and will face No. 1 seed Stanford or eighth-seeded Michigan on Saturday night.
Anne Marie Armstrong added 13 points for the Lady Bulldogs, who blew a 14-point lead with 9 minutes remaining then scored 13 of the final 17 points.
Anna Prins led No. 5 seed Iowa State (24-9) with 23 points.
CALIFORNIA 82, SOUTH FLORIDA 78, OT
LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Layshia Clarendon scored 27 points to lead California to the regional semifinals.
Reshanda Gray added 14 points for the second-seeded Golden Bears (30-2), who will play the winner of Tuesday's game between No. 3 Penn State and No. 6 LSU.
The Bears were up 67-57 before the Bulls went on a 13-3 run culminating in a trio of free throws by Inga Orekhova with under a second remaining that tied it at 70. California missed eight of 11 free throws down the stretch in regulation, but went 8 for 10 at the line in overtime.
Andrea Smith scored 24 points and Orekhova added 22 for No. 10 seed South Florida (22-11).