By CLAY HORNING
It probably could have gone one of three different ways for the Oklahoma women Monday.
Waiting to hear the news of the program’s 14th straight NCAA tournament appearance, the Sooners might have been given a No. 8-seed and been matched up with a No. 1-seed on the No. 1-seed’s home court, should they reach the second round.
That’s the way ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme had it, sending OU to Storrs, Conn., opposite UConn.
The middle road had the Sooners receiving a No. 6- or 7-seed, which would have been plenty reasonable, but still come with a second-round matchup with a No. 2- or 3-seed on that No. 2- or 3-seed’s home court.
OU might have expected such a route, as 14 of 16 first- and second-round tournament sites will be playing host to the team that calls that floor home.
Still left was the most ridiculously hopeful option the Sooners could ever have wanted: a No. 6-seed, in the Oklahoma City Regional, playing the first two rounds of the tournament in an arena no team calls home.
Guess which one they got?
“We’re very excited,” OU coach Sherri Coale said.
The No. 6-seed Sooners (22-10) open NCAA tournament play in Columbus, Ohio, against No. 11-seed Central Michigan (21-11), the surprise conference tournament champion of the Mid-American Conference, at 10:10 Saturday morning.
If the Chippewas are to have a big crowd inside Value City Arena (capacity 18,809), they’ll have to travel the 315 miles from Mount Pleasant to get there.
The site was designed to host Ohio State, but the Buckeyes, who went 18-13 overall and 7-9 in the Big 10, are not dancing.
And the draw gets even better for OU.
Beat the Chippewas and the Sooners will meet the winner of No. 3-seed UCLA and No. 14-seed Stetson. The Bruins defeated OU 86-80 on Nov. 14, the second game of the season, inside Lloyd Noble Center.
Hardly fearful about a rematch, OU is looking forward to it, even while mindful Central Michigan must first be toppled for to get the chance.
“It’s definitely a good feeling to play a team you lost to,” junior shooting guard Aaryn Ellenberg said. “We think it’s a game we ought to have won.”
Every break OU might have received, it received.
It’s a natural the NCAA has given an Oklahoma team the opportunity to win its way back to Oklahoma City, where the regional champion will be decided at Chesapeake Energy Arena on the tourney’s second weekend. If an Oklahoma team can make it back to Oklahoma City, fans are sure to follow.
Still, the selection committee might have given Oklahoma State that chance rather than OU. Instead, the Cowgirls are the No. 7-seed in the Norfolk Regional, taking on DePaul in the first round and, most likely, Duke, should they reach the second. And, should they play Duke in the second round, the Cowgirls will be doing it at Cameron Indoor Stadium, on Duke’s campus, in Durham, N.C.
Part of the reason for OU’s good fortune is how highly the NCAA clearly thinks of the Big 12 this season. Though only No. 1 Baylor is ranked, the conference is sending seven teams to the Big Dance: Baylor, Iowa State, OU, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and West Virginia all received bids.
“You look at our record and we’ve taken some lumps and Tech’s taken some lumps, West Virginia (has too) and Kansas,” Coale said. “But there’s great parity in our league and we were rewarded for that in the tournament, and I think that’s a good thing.”
Better than the Sooners might have dreamed.