Joanna McFarland stepped in when no one else would for Oklahoma, then Aaryn Ellenberg waited until the right moment to take over.
McFarland had 18 points and a career-high 17 rebounds and Ellenberg scored 18 of her 22 points in the second half Saturday to lead the Sooners to a 78-73 victory over Central Michigan in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
They made for quite a lethal tandem.
"She's just a beast," CMU coach Sue Guevara said of 6-foot-3 McFarland.
Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said of Ellenberg, her 3-point specialist: "That's how she plays. The points come in fits and starts. She calmed down, let the game come to her and found her spots."
Sixth-seeded Oklahoma (23-10) advances to Monday night's second-round game against the winner of Stetson and UCLA at Ohio State's St. John Arena.
It was clear who the Sooners wanted to play.
"We'd definitely like to see UCLA advance," McFarland said.
The Bruins came to Norman, Okla., on Nov. 14, and thoroughly outplayed the home team in an 86-80 victory. The Sooners have not forgotten.
As if that weren't enough motivation, the Sooners know that if the survive the two rounds in Columbus, they would return to nearby Oklahoma City to play in the regional next week.
Despite 24 turnovers, the Sooners had just enough to hold off the Chippewas (21-12), who were making their third trip to the NCAA and first since 1984. Crystal Bradford had a sensational game for CMU with a career-high 36 points (on 14-of-31 shooting from the field) plus 14 rebounds and seven steals.
"I was playing with everything I've got," said the sophomore, who averaged 15.5 points during the season. "It hurt more to give it all and come up short."
Ellenberg, who held Oklahoma's season (103) and career (272) records for 3-pointers made, hit 4 of 5 in the second half to rally her team, which was struggling to hold onto the lead. She hit three in a row during one span for the Sooners.
With 3:11 left and late in the shot clock, she hit another to extend the lead to 71-60.
"When they got close, we knew we had to gather ourselves," Ellenberg said. "We were not going to give up the lead."
Every time CMU would draw close, it seemed, the Sooners would get a key bucket from either McFarland or Ellenberg.
The lead waffled between nine points but as few as two for most of the second half, with the teams trading runs.
Ellenberg's three 3s in the middle of the second half allowed Oklahoma to hold off CMU, which had drawn to 49-47 on a three-point play by Bradford. When her third 3 caught nothing but net, it gave the Sooners a 58-49 lead.
Still, the Chippewas fought back to 73-68 with just over a minute left on a floater by Brandie Baker, who had 12 points, but they could get no closer.
"We kept coming back," Guevara said. "We had wide-open shots, but they just didn't go."
Amazingly, Central Michigan had 31 more shots from the field (84-53) but made only 31 percent to the Sooners' 47 percent.
Oklahoma put the game away on two foul shots apiece by Morgan Hook and Sharane Campbell and one by Ellenberg in the final 25 seconds.
Oklahoma, making its 16th trip to the NCAA and 14th in a row, has won its first-round games eight years in a row. The Sooners suffered a blow that might have crippled many teams when they lost their top player, senior guard Whitney Hand, to a knee injury on Dec. 6.
"Central Michigan gave us all we could handle and then some," Coale said. "Crystal Bradford was unbelievable all day long. But our kids took their best shot and weathered it. We just find a way to win. That's been the identity of this squad all season long and we did it again today."
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