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UK Hoops falls in regional final 88-68

Oklahoma withstood early adversity,
composed itself and took control with balance, hustle and its
trademark toughness.
In a game that mirrored their season, the resilient Sooners
pulled through.
Now they're going back to the Final Four.
Nyeshia Stevenson scored 31 points, one shy of her career high,
and Oklahoma blew past fourth-seeded Kentucky 88-68 on Tuesday
night to earn its second straight trip to the Final Four.
Amanda Thompson added 17 points and 14 rebounds for the
third-seeded Sooners (27-10), who'll face Stanford on Sunday in San
Antonio.
The Wildcats stormed out to a 17-4 lead, only to watch as the
Sooners rallied to go ahead 43-39 by halftime. Oklahoma opened the
second half on a 15-5 run, then scored 11 straight points to jump
ahead 69-50 with 6:30 left.
"My kids, they just win. They just win," Oklahoma coach Sherri
Coale said. "Grit, intestinal fortitude, never doubt. They just
believe."
Victoria Dunlap had 31 points and 13 rebounds to lead Kentucky
(28-8), which was seeking its first trip to the Final Four. The
Wildcats stunned top-seeded Nebraska to reach their first regional
final since 1982, but they couldn't complete the Big 12 sweep in
Kansas City.
Kentucky certainly looked the part early. But after a brutal
start, the second half belonged to the Sooners.
"I don't know what was wrong in the first four minutes. But we
turned it around and we played Oklahoma basketball," Stevenson
said.
That was in large part due to Stevenson, who finished one point
shy of a career high.
She followed a 3 with a transition layup to give Oklahoma its
first double-digit edge, 54-44. Robinson then hit a layup, and
Thompson's open jumper put the Sooners ahead by 14.
Kentucky scored six quick points, but that would be about it for
the Wildcats.
Oklahoma responded with a series of knockout blows, as Jasmine
Hartman's steal and layup put Oklahoma back ahead 64-50 with 7:41
left. Stevenson then buried another 3 to give the Sooners an
insurmountable a 19-point lead.
"She was fantastic," Coale said of Stevenson. "She's finally
figured out that she's fast with the ball in her hand."
Kentucky's speed and quickness had Oklahoma on its heels early,
though.
Freshman A'dia Mathies had a transition jumper, a steal and an
assist in the books 30 seconds in, and Amber Smith's no-look dish
to Mathies put the Wildcats ahead 8-0.
Six minutes passed before the Sooners hit a field goal, and by
then, Kentucky's lead was already in double digits.
But Oklahoma soon found its comfort level, erasing a 13-point
deficit in the blink of an eye. Danielle Robinson, who had 16
points and six assists, converted a 3-point play off a steal gave
Oklahoma its first lead, 28-25, with 7:41 left in the first half,
and she added a late layup to put the Sooners ahead by four at
halftime.
Of Coale's three Final Four teams, these Sooners just might be
the most remarkable.
Oklahoma lost the frontcourt duo of Courtney and Ashley Paris
and were picked to finish fifth in the brutal Big 12. The loss of
guard Whitney Hand to a knee injury early in the season cast
further doubts over their national title hopes. But Oklahoma
survived the nation's toughest schedule - all 10 of its losses came
against teams that made the NCAA tournament - and was at its best
in Kansas City.
The Sooners pulled off a mild upset of second-seeded Notre Dame
on Sunday night, as Stevenson's 3 late in overtime helped give them
a hard-fought 77-72 win. Oklahoma then blew the doors off the
speedy Wildcats in the second half, outscoring them 45-29 in the
second half and shooting an astounding 61.5 from the field for the
game.
The Sooners will be joined by Baylor in San Antonio, marking the
first-ever Final Four with two Big 12 teams.
"Throughout the season, we've had to fight," Stevenson said.
"After every loss, we learned from it."
Tuesday's loss was a bitter end to the most successful season
Kentucky's ever had. Picked to finish 11th in the SEC, the Wildcats
set a school record for wins and put the program on the map
nationally.
Few gave them a chance to knock off top-seeded Nebraska in the
regional semis. But the Wildcats overwhelmed the Cornhuskers with
their speed, quickness and pressure, making it apparent that their
victory was no upset.
Oklahoma could run with Kentucky, though, and the Wildcats
seemed to run out of gas once the Sooners dug themselves out of
that early hole.
Kentucky shot just 23.1 percent in the second half, had just six
assists against 14 turnovers and, after shooting lights out from
beyond the arc in the first three NCAA tournament games, shot just
2 of 17 from 3-point range.
Smith and Mathies each had nine points for Kentucky. The
Wildcats return four starters next season, including Dunlap and
Mathies, and shouldn't have to worry about being picked 11th for a
while.
"We laid a foundation now that Kentucky is something to mess
with," Kentucky's Amani Franklin said. "We have been on a great
run."


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