Injury-plagued Sooners fall 74-59 to Lady Vols

JEFF LATZKE AP Sports Writer Published:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- After guiding her team into the second week of the NCAA tournament despite four season-ending injuries, Oklahoma's Sherri Coale was in disbelief when her starting point guard took a hard fall and was too woozy to walk to the sideline on her own.

A season of perseverance by the Sooners finally came to an end Sunday night with a 74-59 loss to Tennessee in the Oklahoma City regional semifinals, with floor leader Morgan Hook unable to play the final 31 minutes.

"That was one of those where you're like, 'Really? Really? Seriously?' After everything, now we're going to drop another one right here in the Sweet 16?" Coale said.

Oklahoma (24-11) had already given up eight straight points in what would become a 20-3 run, and never could recover after that.

Second-seeded Tennessee moved to 26-5 in regional semifinals and advanced to face either top-ranked Baylor or No. 5 seed Louisville on Tuesday night for a spot in the Final Four.

Kamiko Williams scored 15 points to lead the Lady Vols and also led the defense that limited Oklahoma star Aaryn Ellenberg's impact.

"Even though we didn't win the game and the season is over, I could not be more proud of a group of kids," Coale said. "These guys have done amazing things this season against really unbelievable odds."

Sharane Campbell scored 22 points and Joanna McFarland had 14 while matching her career best with 16 rebounds, set in an upset of third-seeded UCLA in the previous round.

The Sooners were already down by 11 when Hook was tripped up by Meighan Simmons and hit her head on the way down. She was helped to the bench by a trainer and sat out the rest of the game with concussion-like symptoms.

Oklahoma was already down to eight scholarship players after a series of four season-ending injuries, including team captain Whitney Hand's knee surgery. Two volleyball players were brought in at midseason for practice help.

There simply wasn't enough firepower to keep up with the deeper SEC regular-season champs, who got 13 points from Cierre Burdick and 12 apiece from Izzy Harrison and Taber Spani while holding the Sooners to 31 percent shooting.

"You've got to find a way. That's the only answer," Campbell said. "You can't panic."

Oklahoma made just 5 of 29 from 3-point range and got just six points from reserves, compared to 30 for the Lady Vols.

The Lady Vols dissected Oklahoma's defense early on, getting easy baskets right under the hoop and putting together a 20-3 run to take control while keeping the Sooners' hometown crowd from getting involved.

Williams hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to get the run going, and her second layup in the stretch pushed Tennessee's advantage to 36-16 with 4:54 to go before the half.

In the first half, Williams had 13 points, three assists and two steals while playing the lead role in holding Ellenberg to a 1-for-11 shooting start that didn't get much better after halftime.

"It's not a secret. I think Kamiko Williams is an extremely talented young lady," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. "When she puts it all together and she gets a great mindset, she can do just about anything."

The Lady Vols have lost in the regional finals the past two seasons and haven't made it to the Final Four since winning the national title in 2008. Tennessee also went through an Oklahoma City regional on its way to the championship that season, with Candace Parker leading the way.

Ellenberg missed 14 of her first 16 shots, including her first seven 3-point attempts. She made a couple of baskets late to finish with 13 points, but had nowhere near the same impact as she did while averaging 24.5 points in the first two rounds of the tournament.

Even when the Sooners were able to force eight straight misses to start the second half, they couldn't dent Tennessee's lead.

Nicole Griffin and Ellenberg each had baskets during the Lady Vols' 4½-minute dry spell, but that only got the deficit down to 44-31 before three straight makes pushed it right back up to 19.

The Sooners started the second half 3 for 21 from the field, with Tennessee's lead growing to 63-35. Coale praised her team for showing the passion and spirit that define the program and cutting into the lead after that.

"This team has done incredible things this year in the face of situations where most people would just succumb and say, 'All right, let's get them next time,'" Coale said. "Not these guys."