March 24, 2001
SPOKANE, Wash. - Washington and Oklahoma feel as if they're about to play themselves.
Everyone's making comparisons and talking of the similarities between the two opponents in the West Regional semifinals Saturday night.
They are two teams that don't play the halfcourt game. They settle for nothing less than pushing the ball at every chance. They will fire 3-pointers whenever there's an open look.
"It's going to be fast and fun, and a lot of shots are going to go up," Sooners guard Sunny Hardeman said. "It's going to be exciting for the crowd to watch. There will be a lot of rebounds and a lot of layups."
The sixth-seeded Huskies - one of the tournament's biggest surprises after a second-round upset win over Florida in Gainesville - average 73.7 points to Oklahoma's 82.3.
Saturday's first semifinal at sold-out Spokane Arena (10,700) features Jackie Stiles of No. 5 seed Southwest Missouri State (27-5) against Alana Beard of top-seeded Duke (30-3).
Stiles, averaging 30.2 points as a senior, has 3,298 career points.
"I don't think we're going to stop her," Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. "We just want to slow her down a little bit."
Beard, a freshman, leads Duke in scoring at 18.5 points per game, and in steals at 1.3 per game. She will be one of at least four players to take turns guarding Stiles. The Duke defense has held opponents to 37 percent shooting.
Southwest Missouri State coach Cheryl Burnett has the Lady Bears in the round of 16 for the first time in eight years.
Oklahoma (28-5) has left defenders behind with its snappy ball movement. The Sooners are led by guards Stacey Dales, LaNeisha Caufield and Hardeman. Dales, an All-American and the Big 12 Player of the Year, and Caufield are the top scorers at 16.1 points per game.
"She would rather have us turn the ball over 50 times in a game trying to execute the fast break than pull it up and walk it down," Dales said of coach Sherri Coale's style. "That's just the mindset she has for this team."
At Washington, it's much the same.
The Huskies will send three players diving to the floor after a loose ball and hope that their in-the-face defense will lead to turnovers and easy baskets.
Guards Megan Franza (16.2 ppg), Loree Payne (11.0) and Giuliana Mendiola (11.0) handle the scoring load.
"It will be like playing us in practice," Payne said of Oklahoma.
Oklahoma and Washington have more in common than just their preferred up-tempo style. Both are the tournament's turnaround teams.
The Huskies tied for the Pac-10 title after finishing 8-22 last season. They're in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1995, and in the tournament for the first time since '98.
"It was definitely a painful year," Franza said of last season. "Last spring and summer, we got a fire under us. No one was going to settle for anything close to 8-and-22."
At Oklahoma, Coale came from Norman High School to transform one of the biggest losers in women's basketball into a national power in just five years. The Sooners won their first outright Big 12 title this season, and second straight. Oklahoma is in the Sweet Sixteen in consecutive years for the first time.
"I knew when she got the job at Oklahoma there would be a turnaround," said Hardeman, who played for Coale at Norman High. "But I wasn't sure it would be this quick. I knew she was destined for the top."
By JANIE McCAULEY
Associated Press Writer