Sooners Set to Defend Big 12 Tournament Title

Athletics Communications
By Athletics Communications
University of Oklahoma
MARCH 09, 2003

March 9, 2003

TOURNAMENT: 2003 Phillips 66 Big 12 Women's Basketball Tournament

TOURNAMENT DATES: March 11, 12, 13, and 15, 2003

TOURNAMENT SITE: Reunion Arena (16,500) - Dallas, Texas

PRACTICES: Oklahoma is scheduled to practice at Reunion Arena from 2 - 3 p.m. on Monday, March 10.

TELEVISION COVERAGE: For the second consecutive year, Fox Sports Net will telecast all games, starting with the quarterfinals, of the Big 12 Tournament. Oklahoma's game on Tuesday WILL NOT to televised. Television coverage from Reunion Arena in Dallas begins Wednesday, March 12 at noon.

Bill Land and Debbie Antonelli form the tournament's main broadcast team. Kevin Eschenfelder and Brenda VanLengen will call the action on the first two quarterfinal games. VanLengen will also serve as the courtside reporter for the semifinals and championship game.

The games will be televised nationwide on Fox Sports Net's group of regional networks that reaches more than 78 million homes.

RADIO: The games will be carried live on the Sooner Basketball Radio Network with Brian Brinkley calling the play-by-play and Tara DeGiusti adding color commentary on KOMA 1520 AM. All women's basketball games are also available live by Yahoo! on the Internet at

INTERVIEWS: ALL interview request for Oklahoma head coach Sherri Coale and OU players must go through Debbie Long, OU Associate Media Relations Director. Long will be staying with the team and can be contacted at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dallas. Phone: 214-712-7275

QUICKLY: Oklahoma, the defending Big 12 Tournament Champions, enters this year's tournament as the fifth seed and will be playing on the opening day of tournament action for the first time in four years.

OU looks to become the first team in Big 12 Tournament history to win the title by playing four games. Only the top four seeded teams in conference tournament history have won the title. Kansas State (No. 5 seed, 1997) and Texas (No. 6 seed, 2000) are the only two teams that have advanced to the championship game that didn't receive a first round bye. UT lost to top seed Iowa State, 75-65, while third seed Colorado defeated K-State, 54-44.

The Sooners (18-11, 9-7 Big 12) have appeared in the tournament title game the last two years as the top seed. OU became the first team in conference history to march through the tournament bracket with a 15-plus points victory margin. Oklahoma defeated Oklahoma State, 87-56 (+31), Kansas State, 69-49 (+20) and Baylor, 84-69 (+15) for the school's first women's basketball Big 12 postseason trophy in 2002. OU used last year's tournament as a tune up to its impressive run to the NCAA Championship game.

If Oklahoma wins its opening game against Nebraska (8-19, 1-15 Big 12) on Tuesday, March 11, OU will face Colorado for the third time in Big 12 Tournament history. The Buffs won the regular season meeting between the two teams, 61-57, in Boulder, Colo. The last time these two teams faced off in Big 12 Tournament action it resulted in a shootout and numerous tournament records being set. OU won 102-93.

SERIES RECORDS: Oklahoma has won four straight games against Nebraska and looks to even the all-time series record Tuesday. The Cornhuskers hold a 21-20 edge over the Sooner but OU defeated Nebraska 57-43 in Lincoln in the opening game of the Big 12 season for both programs (Jan. 11). Oklahoma sports a slim 2-1 advantage when playing on a neutral court.

Colorado, Oklahoma State and Kansas State are the only teams that Oklahoma has faced more than once in tournament action. OU is 1-1 against each team.

INSIDE REUNION ARENA: Oklahoma has never played inside Reunion Arena.

POSSIBLE OPPONENTS: Waiting for the winner of the OU-Nebraska game is fourth seed Colorado (21-6, 11-5 Big 12). CU will take to the court for the first time on Wednesday, March 11, at 2:30 p.m. Oklahoma lost to the Buffs, 61-57, earlier this season in Boulder. The quarterfinal games will be televised by Fox Sports Net.

RANKINGS: On Oklahoma's side of the bracket, only top seed Texas is ranked. The Longhorns currently sit at No. 5 in the country according to the Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN/WBCA Coaches polls (as of March 3). Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, Iowa State and Kansas are not ranked.

Probable Starters

Oklahoma                           PPGRPG 
14  CBeky Preston (6-3, Fr.)       4.24.1
22  CTheresa Schuknecht (6-3, Sr.)11.26.6
35  GDionnah Jackson (5-9, So.)11.76.5
05  GMaria Villarroel (5-8, Jr.)14.85.1
00  GChelsi Welch (5-9, Fr.)        12.13.6

Nebraska PPGRPG 01 FGreichaly Cepero (6-2, Jr.)5.55.1 12 FAmanda Cleveland (6-2, Sr.)8.06.6 42 FAlexa Johnson (6-1, Jr.)15.06.7 20 GJina Johnansen (5-7, So.)5.73.2 22 GMargaret Richards (5-9, Sr.)11.45.9

Although OU was the 2002 NCAA runner-up, the Sooners have a whole new look in 2003. Oklahoma entered the season with just one returning starter from the team that won the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles. Then, OU entered conference play with five new starters after senior forward Caton Hill was lost for the season with a knee injury on Nov. 26.

As the season developed, the Sooners found their leader in sophomore Dionnah Jackson. Jackson took a handful of young and inexperience role players and guided them to a fifth seed in the Big 12 Tournament and an 18-11 overall record. Of OU's 10 active players, eight averages at least 10 minutes per game and four are averaging better than 10 points and four rebounds per contest.

Jackson is one of only two players who have started all 29 games this season. Her offensive and defensive production over the course of the season earned her All-Big 12 second team honors. She exploded against Iowa State when she nailed a career-high five of seven three pointers for a season-best 21 points. She also had seven assists and seven rebounds against the Cyclones. Jackson's defensive skills have improved as she currently ranks second on the team for most rebounds per game with 6.5. She tops the team in assists (5.1) and steals (2.0) per game and ranks third in scoring with 11.7 ppg. The St. Louis, Mo., native, boasts a Big 12 best 2.3 assist/turnover ratio against league opponents.

Freshman Chelsi Welch, an All-Big 12 second teamer and co-Big 12 Freshman of the Year selection, has also started every game for the Sooners, averaging 12.1 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Over the last two games, Welch has contributed a team-best 16.5 ppg and she leads the club in Big 12 scoring with 14.2 ppg. The 5-9 guard has scored 10-plus points in 13 of 16 conference games and shot 87.1 percent from the free throw line.

Appearing in 26 of OU's 29 starting lineups has been junior Maria Villarroel. Villarroel, a transfer from Northeast Oklahoma A&M, has been the team leader in scoring the entire season and currently boasts 14.8 ppg. Villarroel unleashed a career-high tying 31 points against Missouri on Feb. 26. She also scored 31 against Fordham on Nov. 29. She has surpassed the 30-point mark three times this season. Because of her quickness and ability to finish at the rim, Villarroel leads the Big 12 Conference for best field goal percentage (.576). She also averages 5.1 rebounds per game and has a team-high 21 blocked shots.

OU's inside play comes from a pair of 6-3 centers in senior Theresa Schuknecht and freshman Beky Preston. Schuknecht, who has returned to the starting lineup, has averaged 11.0 points and 9.7 rebounds per game over the last three games. She has also shot better than 60 percent from the field and free throw line.

Preston has started the last 12 games with averages of 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 points per game. Her field goal percentage has improved to an impressive 57.1 percent as a starter and she's produced double-doubles against Iowa State and Oklahoma State.

Appearing in the starting lineup at times has been freshman forward Laura Andrews (4.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and sophomore guard Lauren Shoush (3.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg).

As a team, Oklahoma is averaging 66.9 points and 40.1 rebounds per game. The Sooners have improved to 41.5 percent from the field and remain solid at the stripe, hitting 70.7 percent.

Nebraska and Oklahoma has one thing in common, a thin roster. OU has 10 active players, while the Cornhuskers are down to nine scholarship players. Nebraska senior Keasha Cannon, junior Katie Morse and freshman Jamie Wendelin are redshirting for medical reasons. Oklahoma has four players sidelined with injuries. Due to the limited numbers for NU, first year Head Coach Connie Yori welcomed volleyball standouts Greichaly Cepero and Laura Pilakowski to the team in January.

Nebraska enters the Big 12 Tournament as the 12th seed with a 1-15 conference record and overall mark of 8-19. The Cornhuskers kicked off the 2002-03 campaign by winning six of their first eight games, including an upset victory over then 25th-ranked Cincinnati (65-55) on Dec. 15 in Lincoln. Once Nebraska opened Big 12 play it was all down hill from there as they were only able to muster one league victory, 73-59 win over Oklahoma State on Feb. 1.

Junior Alexa Johnson is Nebraska's top player as she leads the team in scoring with 15.0 points per game, ranking her 10th best in the Big 12. She also chips in 6.7 rebounds per outing, 12th best in the league. The 6-1 forward has produced a team-best four double doubles on the season and scored 20 or more points on six occasions. Assisting Johnson has been Amanda Cleveland, Margaret Richards, Jina Johansen and Greichaly Cepero. Cleveland, a 6-2 senior, ranks among the Big 12 top rebounders with an average of 6.6 per contest. Richards is considered the Cornhuskers top all-around player, averaging 11.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Johansen is NU's top playermaker as she tops the team with 5.5 assists. She also averages 5.7 ppg and 3.2 rpg. Cepero is currently contributing 5.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per contest.

As a team, Nebraska is shooting 36.9 percent from the field, 29.0 percent from the arc and 69.0 percent from the foul line. The Cornhuskers are scoring 57.5 points per game while allowing only 63.6 a contest.

On Sunday, March 16, Oklahoma will be waiting to hear the 2003 NCAA Selection Committee announce the Sooners as one of 64 teams in this year's tournament. However, many have questioned if OU is in the "Big Dance".

Without question the Sooners are in and hosting their first two games at the Lloyd Noble Center, in Norman, Okla., on March 23 and 25 (Sunday/Tuesday).

OU sports an overall record of 18-10 and finished fifth in the Big 12 Conference, the toughest conference in the NCAA from top to bottom, after losing four players to knee injuries. Oklahoma also has earned an RPI of 31st and its strength of schedule is considered the 12th toughest in the nation. OU has a quality win over No. 11 North Carolina and has played nine teams ranked among the NCAA elite.

This year would mark the sixth appearance for the Sooners and fourth for OU's Head Coach Sherri Coale in the NCAA Tournament. OU's previous showings were in 1986, 1995, 2000, 2001 and 2002. The Sooners are 11-5 in NCAA Tournament action.

The winner of the Big 12 Tournament receives an automatic bid.

Oklahoma has earned a 4-2 record when playing teams from the Big 12 Northern Division this season. OU defeated Nebraska (57-43), Kansas (61-49), Iowa State (61-48) and Missouri (74-69). The Sooners lost to No. 4 Kansas State (74-45) and Colorado (61-57).

In the upper part of the Big 12 Tournament bracket four of the six teams are from the Big 12 Northern Division.

Even though they have less than two years on the collegiate court at OU, sophomore Dionnah Jackson, junior transfer Maria Villarroel, senior transfer Theresa Schuknecht and freshman Chelsi Welch ranks among Sooner greats on the single season and career charts.

Jackson and Villarroel are among OU's all-time best and single season leaders while Schuknecht and Welch have posted some impressive marks this season.

Jackson ranks 11th in career defensive rebounds (273), assists (251) and minutes played per game (29.2). She also appears eighth in assists (147) and 10th in defensive rebounds (143) plus 11 steals shy of ranking 15th best in steals (57) for a single season.

Villarroel is fifth on the single season list for best field goal percentage (57.6%), 11th for attempted free throws (158) and 15th for made free throws (112). She's three offensive rebounds (70) and one blocked shot (21) shy of 15th in both single season categories. The 5-8 guard is also one blocked shot (21) shy of ranking among OU's all-time greats.

Schuknecht's 83.8 free throw percentage ranks her fourth best among single season leaders and her 81 offensive rebounds rank eighth best.

Welch is 10th on the single season list for field goals attempted (128), 14th for best free throw percentage (81.0%) and just three three-pointers shy of 15th for most made trifecta (39).

Senior center Theresa Schuknecht was named to the 2002-03 Verizon Academic All-America Women's Basketball first team. Schuknecht becomes OU's second basketball Academic All-American in as many years and fifth overall for the women's basketball program. Former Sooner great and WNBA All-Star Stacey Dales-Schuman earned first team honors and voted the Academic Player of the Year last season.

Oklahoma was the only school in the Big 12 Conference to have a player earn Academic All-America accolades. Schuknecht also earned Academic and Athletic All-America honors at NAIA powerhouse Southern Nazarene in 2001.

Schuknecht was voted to the Academic All-Big 12 and Verizon All-District VI first teams prior to being named an All-American. She sports a 3.92 overall grade point average and has maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA since her arrival at OU. The marketing major has appeared on the President's Honor Roll, Dean's List, Sooner Scholar List and Commissioner's Honor Roll three times.

Dionnah Jackson and Chelsi Welch were All-Big 12 Conference second team selections. Welch was also named co-Big 12 Freshman of the Year, along with Texas Tech's Erin Grant. The last OU player to be named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year was LaNeishea Caufield, who now plays in the WNBA.

Jackson and Welch helped lead OU to a fifth-place conference finish at 9-7 and an overall record of 18-11. OU also won the Bertha Teague Classic and finished second to defending NCAA Champions Connecticut at the Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Invitational. The Sooners knocked off No. 11 North Carolina at the same tournament.

Jackson ranks fourth in the league and tops the team in assists per game with 5.1. The 5-9 guard also owns the conference's best assist/turnover ratio of 2.2 against Big 12 teams. Jackson is the only guard in the conference who ranks among the top 20 rebounders. She averages 6.5 boards per game, ranking her 15th in the league. The St. Louis, Mo., native also contributes 11.7 points (third best on the team) and pockets a team-best 2.0 steals per game.

Welch, a 5-9 guard from Plainview, Texas, averages 12.1 points per game and is among conference leaders in free throw percentage (81.0) and three-pointers made per game (1.34). In Big 12 games, Welch averaged 14.2 ppg and 1.69 three-pointers per outing. She ranks second in the league with an 87.1 free throw percentage. Welch scored at least 10 points in 13 of 16 Big 12 games, including a career-high 23 at Texas Tech and 20 against Texas.

Six women's basketball student-athletes were placed on the 2003 Academic All-Big 12 first team. As a team, OU produced one of its highest ever team GPA of 3.43 for the fall 2002 semester. OU's best team GPA is a 3.44 set following the fall semester of 2001.

Senior Theresa Schuknecht, a marketing major, earned Academic All-America honors with a 3.92 overall GPA and a 4.0 GPA for three semesters at OU.

Earning their second straight all-academic honors were seniors Kate Scott and Stephanie Simon and junior Stephanie Luce. Luce is supporting a double major of chemistry and philosophy, while Scott is an education major and Simon is studying political science. Scott, Simon and Luce are also seven-time Sooner Scholars. Among the first time honorees were sophomore Lauren Shoush, an education major, and redshirt-freshman Antoinette Wadsworth.

Only Iowa State's seven first team selections topped the Sooners. OU, Kansas State and Colorado each had six first team members.

Each member of this year's women's basketball team was named to the 2002 Fall Sooner Scholar list. Every player earned at least a 3.0 grade point average last semester or has a 3.0 cumulative.

For the sixth year in a row, a Sherri Coale coached team has averaged better than 38.0 rebounds per game. This year's team averages 40.1 boards per game while her 2001 team averaged 41.2 rpg, the most for a Coale team.

As this young Sooner team is learning to play together they have realized how important it is to share the basketball. Of OU's 676 field goals made this year, 61.5 percent have been assisted.

As a team, the Sooners have dished out 416 assists for a 14.3 per game average.

Oklahoma has outrebounded 17 of its 29 opponents this season, including 10 Big 12 teams. The Sooners sport a +3.4 rebounding margin ranking them fifth in the league. OU's largest rebounding margin has been 24 against Stephen F. Austin in December. Oklahoma out rebounded Texas A&M by 15 in College Station.

With the 71-57 victory over Oklahoma State on March 1, OU earned its 12th season with 18-plus victories (18-11).

The Sooners established a school-best 32 wins a year ago (32-4) and OU Head Coach Sherri Coale has coached four teams to 18 or more victories (three of Coale's teams ultimately won 20-plus games).

Oklahoma post players, senior Theresa Schuknecht and freshman Beky Preston, played an important role in OU's wins over Missouri and Oklahoma State. The 6-3 centers accounted for 33.1 percent of the team's points (48) and 55.4 percent of its rebounds (46) in those two games.

Against Missouri, Schuknecht scored 11 points and had a career-high 15 rebounds, while Preston chipped in 12 and had a career-high 10 rebounds. At Oklahoma State, Preston had a career-high tying 13 points and 10 boards, followed by 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds for Schuknecht.

The last time an OU post tandem combined for 25 rebounds and 20-plus points was during the 2000-01 season.

Caton Hill teamed up with Jamie Talbert for 33 points and 21 rebounds against Colorado (March 10) in the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament. Hill scored 23 points and had 11 rebounds to Talbert's 10 points and 10 rebounds. Hill also joined Jen Cunningham for 35 points and 24 rebounds against Texas (Jan. 10). Cunningham had a career-high 18 points and 12 rebounds while Hill chipped in 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Freshman Beky Preston has continued to improve since the first day she stepped on campus. The 6-3 center fought her way into the starting lineup and has been a mainstay among the top five since Jan. 26. The Albuquerque, N.M., native has always been a consistent contributor but as of late she has made a greater impact on OU's offensive and defensive systems.

Over the last three games, she has averaged nearly a double-double with 11.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. In this time span Preston has nailed 71.4 percent of her shots from the field, hitting 15-of-21 attempts Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas. In these three games, she set or matched nine personal best.

Preston enters the Big 12 Tournament with overall averages of 4.1 rebounds and 4.2 points per game in 15.9 minutes a contest. She also sports an overall field goal percentage of 52.7 percent, hitting 49-of-93 shots. Preston has played in 27 games, starting 12.

Senior Theresa Schuknecht, junior Maria Villarroel, sophomore Dionnah Jackson and freshmen Beky Preston and Laura Andrews are members of OU's double-double club.

Schuknecht has produced four double-doubles on the season, including back-to-back performances. She had 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds at Oklahoma State (March 1), prior to scoring 11 points and grabbing a career-high 15 rebounds vs. Missouri (Feb. 26). Schuknecht took Tennessee for a then career-high 27 points and collected 12 rebounds in her first outing as a Sooner (Nov. 10). She nearly repeated her numbers with 20 points and 12 boards against Stephen F. Austin (Dec. 5) for her second double-double.

Preston has recorded back-to-back double-doubles with a career-tying 13 points and 10 rebounds at OSU and 12 points and 10 rebounds against Missouri.

Jackson earned her first double-double against Wichita State (Dec. 9) with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Villarroel netted 13 points and grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds against Iowa State. Andrews had a career day at Baylor scoring 21 points and collecting 11 boards.

Caton Hill had three double-doubles to open the season before being sidelined by injury.

Junior Maria Villarroel became the 16th player in OU women's basketball history to score 30-plus points in a single game. The Venezuelan has surpassed this mark three times with the most recent performance being a career-high tying 31 points against Missouri on Feb. 26. The 5-8 guard hit 10-of-13 shots from the field and connected on all 11 attempted free throws. Her flawless performance at the stripe tops the Big 12 Conference and established a Lloyd Noble Center record for best free throw performance in a single game (11-of-11, 100%).

Villarroel also became just the sixth player to score at least 30 points in three or more games as a Sooner.

Former Sooner great Phylesha Whaley (now an assistant coach for Oklahoma State) holds OU's record for most 30-plus performances with eight. She is also the record holder for most 30-plus performances in a single season with four (1998, Soph.), followed by Tammy Roger's (1990, Sr.) and Villarroel's three.

Freshman Chelsi Welch has come up with stellar performances against Big 12 opponents. The Plainview, Texas, native returned home to west Texas to drop a career-high 23 points against Texas Tech on Feb. 19. She has scored at least 10 points in 13 of 16 Big 12 games, including 10 straight.

Welch has improved her point production to a team-best 14.2 points per game against conference opponents. The 5-9 guard ranks second in the league in free throw accuracy, seventh in three-point field goals made per game and 13th in scoring.

Compare to other freshmen in the league, Welch ranks second in scoring (12.1 ppg) and free throw percentage (81.0%), fifth in steals (1.3 spg), ninth in rebounds (3.6 rpg) and 10th three-point field goal percentage (30.5%) and assists (1.6 apg).

Dionnah Jackson is the only guard in the Big 12 Conference who ranks among the league's top 20 in rebounds per game. Jackson averages 6.5 boards per contest for 15th best in the conference.

In conference games only, she has increased that average to 7.1 rebounds per game for 10th best. Jackson's small 5-9 frame finds its way to the paint on the defensive end as she grabs the league's fourth best 5.8 defensive boards per game.

Point guard Dionnah Jackson picked up her production in Big 12 play. Her ability to take care of the basketball ranks her first on the Big 12 chart in assist/turnover ratio with a 2.3, compared to a 1.2 assist/turnover ratio in non-conference action.

Over the last five games, the sophomore has earned a sound 2.1 assist/turnover ratio in 34.0 minutes of play. Against Texas Tech and Iowa State, she produced 10 assists to just four turnovers for a 2.5 A/T ratio.

The St. Louis, Mo., native had a career-high 10 assists to zero turnovers in 38 minutes of play against Texas (Jan. 29), her best showing in a Sooner uniform at the point guard position. Ranking a close second is her performance of nine assists to one turnover in 36 minutes against Baylor.

Prior to this season, Jackson's best was eight assists to one turnover in 23 minutes against Tulsa.

One of the biggest improvements in Dionnah Jackson's game since the beginning of the season has been her production at the free throw line. Over the past 12 games, she has nailed 84.2 percent (16-of-19) of her attempted shots from the charity stripe.

In non-conference action, Jackson was only able to connect on 61.2 percent (41-of-67) of her free throws.

Oklahoma sports a solid 70.0 free throw percentage in the final two minutes of the game. The Sooners have hit 63-of-90 attempted free throws down the stretch.



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