When the NCAA women's tournament bracket was revealed on Monday, the Oklahoma Sooners couldn't have been more thrilled with their position. They had been given a No. 6 seed in the Oklahoma City regional, with a chance to play in front a home crowd should they advance to the Sweet 16.
Not only that, but the Sooners had an opportunity to potentially get revenge on UCLA in the second round should the Bruins advance. UCLA had defeated the Sooners in Norman back in November, 86-80.
However, all the possibilities would have been for naught if the Sooners couldn't get past No. 11 seed Central Michigan Saturday morning. The Sooners needed a two huge halves from two players, but got the job done, defeating the Chippewas 78-73 in Columbus, Ohio.
Joanna McFarland scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the first half, while Aaryn Ellenberg scored 18 points in the second half to help the Sooners overcome a magnificent performance from Central Michigan's Crystal Bradford.
Bradford finished with 36 points and 14 rebounds, nine of those on the offensive glass. She also hit five 3-pointers and had seven steals, shooting 14-of-31 from the field. Unfortunately, Bradford didn't have enough help to pull off the upset, as the rest of the team shot just 12-of-53 (22.6 percent).
Ellenberg finished with 22 points and seven rebounds, but it was four 3-pointers in the second half that helped the Sooners fight off a ferocious Chippewas rally and maintain control down the stretch.
McFarland finished the game with 18 points and 17 rebounds, while Sharane Campbell was the other player in double figures with 15 points.
Brandie Baker added 12 points for Central Michigan while Niki DiGuilio had 10 points.
The Sooners managed to come out on top despite 24 turnovers, 17 of those in the second half. Point guard Morgan Hook had seven of those 24, an uncharacteristically high number for the junior. Central Michigan also managed to corral 23 offensive rebounds against the Sooners, turning those into 17 second-chance points.
The Sooners were very effective in the first half, taking a 12-10 lead on a McFarland layup with 13:32 remaining in the half. McFarland's layup was part of a 12-0 run that gave the Sooners a 20-10 lead at the 11:15 mark of the half.
Bradford was spectacular, scoring 17 points in the first half to keep CMU within striking distance and never allowing the OU lead to grow to more than nine points.
McFarland was the story of the first half for the Sooners, hitting a 3-pointer to give OU a 27-18 lead, and then another one five minutes later to give OU a 37-29 lead. Freshman Nicole Kornet came off the bench to score eight points for the Sooners, including two 3-pointers that gave OU a 43-34 lead at the half.
After the break, the Sooners couldn't hold on to the ball, turning it over seven times in the first five and a half minutes. During that stretch, the Sooners attempted just a single shot while CMU took 12, cutting the lead to 49-47 on an and-one opportunity from Bradford.
That's when Ellenberg got going, hitting three consecutive 3s for OU over the span of three minutes to give OU a 58-49 lead with 11:32 remaining.
The lead stayed between seven and 10 points for the better part of eight minutes as the Sooners and Chippewas traded baskets. However, Ellenberg's fourth 3 of the half came with 3:10 remaining and gave the Sooners a 71-60 lead.
CMU made one final push, going on an 8-2 run to cut the lead to 73-68, and had the ball with 36 seconds left after a Hook turnover, but DiGuilio missed a 3-pointer, all but ending the Chippewas season.