The Sooners (18-14), an at-large bid and a 10 seed in the Nebraska Region, will face 7-seed DePaul (27-6), the Big East champion Saturday at 12:30 p.m. CT in Durham, N.C.
“We don’t ever for a second want to lose sight of what a hard thing this is to do,” OU head coach Sherri Coale said, “and what a special accomplishment it is to us to be in our 15th consecutive NCAA Tournament.
“That’s a reflection of a lot of hard work and the passionate commitment of a bunch of kids over the course of a lot of years. This group has hung in there, and they’ve scratched and clawed and gave themselves a chance to live again. We have another shot at life this basketball season. We don’t intend to take that for granted.”
The Sooners’ streak is the seventh longest active among Division I teams.
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Led by 15.3 points per game from senior forward Jasmine Penny, DePaul went 15-3 in the Big East, claiming the conference’s regular season and tournament titles and an automatic bid.
“I know Doug Bruno well,” Coale added. “I know they’re extremely well-coached. They’re fundamental and they stick to their plan. I do know that, but I haven’t watched them play. Our coaching staff is in the office right now figuring that out and they’ll we watching them tonight.”
Oklahoma waited through a nervous Selection Monday, sitting on the tournament bubble while watching the bracket unveil live on an ESPN broadcast at Coale’s home.
“It was a great feeling,” OU senior point guard Morgan Hook said. “I think a few of us even starting crying. I think we were so relived we still have another chance, another shot at life.”
“You read all the projections and you can do the metrics and do the research,” Coale said, “and still, nothing is sure until you read your name on the screen. It was nice to have it happen in the first bracket. A lot of relief, a lot of excitement, a lot to be thankful for, and new life.”
The Sooners were one of the last four at-large teams selected by the NCAA committee for the postseason championship. Oklahoma went 4-11 against the tournament field during the regular season, but suffered three of those losses in overtime.
“I think our pre-conference strength of schedule is what pushed us in. Of course, performing the way we did against top 10 teams in the country, even though we didn’t win those games – that’s the proverbial eye test we talk about. How you schedule is imperative. I think you only need to look at teams who don’t get in and men’s brackets to understand how that is a factor.”
A first-round victory sets up a potential matchup with No. 2 seed Duke (27-6), who beat Oklahoma 94-85 in Norman on Dec. 8. The Blue Devils face 15-seed Winthrop (24-8) in their first-round matchup.
After dropping out of the Big 12 Tournament with a quarterfinals loss to Texas on March 8, the Sooners will have had 14 days to prepare between games.
“It’s been a big benefit in terms of resetting our focus to what we want to do,” OU senior guard Ellenberg said, “the way we approach work. And just for this season, we have another chance, a clean slate for our program as well.”