COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Oklahoma is trying not to get ahead of itself.
The Sooners are well aware of what team they could play if they take care of their first-round business in the NCAA tournament at Ohio State’s St. John Arena.
“It would really be cool to get a rematch with them,” point guard Morgan Hook said of the possibility of meeting UCLA on Monday night.
First, the sixth-seeded Sooners (22-10) take on Mid-American Conference tournament champion Central Michigan (21-11) on Saturday. Then the third-seeded Bruins (25-7) meet Atlantic Sun tournament winner Stetson (24-8) in the other first-round game.
If form holds, there could easily be a redo of UCLA’s 86-80 win in Norman, Okla., on Nov. 14.
Coach Sherri Coale wouldn’t even entertain the thought of renewing acquaintances with the Bruins, however.
“Our guys understand if we don’t show up and present the best version of ourselves, we’re in trouble,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. And, I’ve got to tell you, Central Michigan is good. I watched them on film. Those guys can score.”
The first game figures to be a bonanza for anyone who likes scoring. The Sooners come in averaging 71.3 points, the Chippewas 74.4.
“It’s probably going to be a track meet, so we want to just keep running,” CMU point guard Brandie Baker said.
Oklahoma arrives in the tournament after a tumultuous journey. The Sooners were expected to be a national contender with all five starters returning, but then lost four players to injury - including elite guard Whitney Hand, who tore an ACL in the first half of a game against North Texas on Dec. 6.
Hand was more than just someone who contributed 13.3 points a game last year. She ran the offense, did the talking in team huddles before free throws, distributed the ball, keyed the defense - just about everything but launder the uniforms.
Suddenly, the wife of Sooners starting quarterback Landry Jones was gone for the rest of the season.
“I’m not sure there’s a more complete basketball player and individual on the planet than Whitney Hand,” said Coale, who called Hand the heart and soul of the team. “For her to go down, it was a blow on every level.”
It took a while, but the Sooners found other players to rely on. Despite four losses in a five-game span late in the season, they earned an at-large bid. Now they’ll be tested by a small, fast Central Michigan roster.
The Chippewas were encouraged that President Obama picked them to upset the Sooners.
“We don’t want to mess up his bracket,” Crystal Bradford, the MAC tournament MVP, said with a laugh.
St. John Arena is truly a neutral site, with all four teams hoping that they can make the most of no team having a distinct home-court advantage.
CMU coach Sue Guevara laid claim to being a hometown favorite, however. She was a graduate assistant at Ohio State when it won the Big Ten title in 1984-85 under current Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer.
“I’m hoping that we can get the Buckeye fans to come out and root for an alum of the The Ohio State University, who just happens to be in maroon and gold,” she said.
Oklahoma also has another incentive. Monday night’s winner advances to the regional in Oklahoma City - almost in the Sooners’ backyard.
“That’s what we’re hoping for,” Hook said. “That would be really great for us.”
But first things first.