Matchup inside will be key when Oklahoma faces Washington
SEATTLE (AP) — Washington's Chantel Osahor and Oklahoma's Vionise Pierre-Louis are two of the more skilled, unique post players in the country, each with the ability to take over a game in their own way.
Pierre-Louis will do most of her damage on the low block with an array of post moves that this year has seen her score 15 or more points five times in the past eight games. But as she showed in Oklahoma's first-round NCAA Tournament win over Gonzaga, she can control the interior on the defensive end with a school-record nine blocked shots.
Osahor is the national leader in rebounding but is just as adept offensively around the basket — with the occasional flat-footed 3-pointer thrown in.
"Chantel is a really big guard that sometimes goes to the block and uses her size to score," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said.
Who can control the matchup in the inside between Pierre-Louis and Osahor will be a major factor in Monday's second-round game between the sixth-seeded Sooners and No. 3-seed Huskies. The winner gets a spot in the regional semifinals on Friday night in Oklahoma City against No. 2 seed Mississippi State.
Washington star Kelsey Plum and Oklahoma standout Peyton Little will naturally play huge roles in which team gets to the Sweet 16. But the matchup on the inside could be just as important.
"She just needs to play her game and not worry too much about what's on the other side," Oklahoma's Maddie Manning said of Pierre-Louis. "If (Vionise) is poised and attacking in her way then I don't know if there are too many people who can guard her effectively."
There is familiarity on both sides. Washington and Oklahoma played a two-year, home-and-home series that wrapped up during the 2015-16 season. The Sooners came out on top both times winning 90-80 in Norman and 71-68 in Seattle. The game in Norman featured Plum scoring a then career-high 45 points in the loss, a mark that stood until she erupted for 57 points in the final regular season home game of her career last month against Utah.
The loss last season in Seattle stuck with the Huskies all season after they went scoreless the final two minutes and allowed Oklahoma to rally.
"I also thought it was a game that we utilized throughout the rest of the entire year to make our Final Four run," Washington coach Mike Neighbors said. "So kind of one of those lose the battle to win the war games for us. It was something we drew from all the way to Indianapolis."
Here's what else to watch for as the Sooners and Huskies meet for the third straight season:
GOING HOME: Oklahoma is hoping to replicate what it pulled off in 2013. The Sooners were a No. 6 seed that year and beat third-seeded UCLA in the round of 32 to advance to the regional semifinals in nearby Oklahoma City. The Sooners eventually lost to Tennessee in the Sweet 16.
The same scenario could play out this time around, although that win over UCLA four years ago came on a neutral floor. Oklahoma missed a chance to reach the regional semifinals back home two years ago, losing to Stanford in the round of 32.
HITTING TRIPLES: Oklahoma was able to jump out to an early lead against Gonzaga by hitting six 3-pointers in the first quarter. The Sooners averaged just over six made 3s per game for the season and finished with 10 made 3s versus the Bulldogs, the third time this season hitting 10 or more in a game.
Washington made just seven 3-pointers against Montana State in the first round and in the past two games is just 12 of 53 (23 percent) from 3-point range.
"I know that over the course of law of large numbers, if we take 50 shots we're going to make 30 of them," Neighbors said. "If we take 50 threes we're going to make around 22 or 23 of them. So I don't look at any of them as slumping."
SAYING GOODBYE: No matter the outcome, Monday night will be the final games at home for seniors Plum, Osahor, Katie Collier and possibly Heather Corral.
"It's bittersweet. It's going to be great in front of another great crowd, and I get to play with three of the best seniors I've ever played with so it will be fun," Osahor said.