3-17-07 -- When Oklahoma's biggest and best player was struggling, it was the Sooners' youngest and smallest starter who pushed them through the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Freshman Jenna Plumley, all 5-feet, 4-inches of her, had 20 points behind six 3-pointers and Leah Rush scored 19 to lead the third-seeded Sooners to a 74-60 win over Southeast Missouri State on Saturday.
The opening game of the Dayton Regional was much tougher than expected for the heavily-favored Sooners in front of a pro-Oklahoma crowd that chanted ``Boomer! Sooner!'' before tipoff .
Southeast Missouri State kept it close by keeping the ball from Oklahoma center Courtney Paris, one of the country's most dominating players, and a hot shooting start from Sanya Daugherty.
Paris had 13 points and 11 rebounds for her 59th consecutive double-double but had what could be considered one of her worst career games. She got the final two rebounds she needed in the final two minutes.
What the Redhawks (24-8) didn't count on was Plumley having the steady nerve to keep launching, and making, 3-pointers in her first NCAA tournament game.
``(She) just broke our back with 3 after 3,'' said Redhawks coach John Ishee.
``My role is to come in and hit open shots like the coaches tell me and take care of the ball. I was a little nervous coming in,'' said Plumley, who didn't get her first start until mid-February.
The Redhawks trailed 64-58 with four minutes to play before Plumley hit her fifth 3-pointer, then buried another 60 seconds later to make it 70-60. Plumley also had seven assists.
``For a kid's first NCAA tournament game, that line is magnificent,'' said Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale.
Rush was nearly as good with 8-of-12 shooting for the Sooners, who shot 57 percent as a team.
The Redhawks stunned the Sooners with a fast start.
Daugherty, who scored 19 points in the first half, hit two 3-pointers and Southeast Missouri State led 22-14. Defensively, the Redhawks clogged the passing lanes to prevent the Sooners from dumping the ball down low to Paris, who took only two shots in the first half.
Even when the Sooners tried to lob it in, the Redhawks were able to tip it away. Paris had only three rebounds in the first half and twice the Redhawks ripped the ball from her strong hands.
Paris, who averages 16 rebounds, was matched up against the Redhawks' Lachelle Lyles, the nation's leading rebounder at 17 per game. Lyles finished with 10.
``My first possession when she (Lyles) boxed me out, I thought, `No wonder she leads the nation,''' Paris said. ``They were very tough and very scrappy.''
The Redhawks were on a roll until a 3-point attempt by Ashley Lovelady wedged between the rim and the basket. The stop in play gave the Sooners a chance to regroup.
An 18-5 Oklahoma run - including a long 3-pointer from Plumley, who seemed to inch farther and farther out each time she shot - put the Sooners up 26-23. Oklahoma (27-4) led 37-34 at halftime.
``They had to prove to us they could make outside shots,'' Lovelady said.
Paris started the second half with a strong baseline layup the first time she touched the ball and ripped down three straight rebounds on the other end. The basket made her the fastest player in NCAA history to reach 1,500 points and 1,000 rebounds - she did it in her 67th career game.
Oklahoma kept stretching its lead from the outside. A 3-pointer by Rush, at 6-1 a tough mismatch when she pulls up from the arc, helped put the Sooners up by 10.
Plumley had two nifty assists to Paris on tosses inside, then found her shooting stroke again. After hitting four 3-pointers in the first half, she had missed her first three attempts in the second and seemed to get a little wild with her shot selection.
But when she buried two in a row late in the game, the Redhawks were out of chances to rally.
``This was a dogfight to the bitter end,'' Coale said. ``We did a lot of good stuff and they hung right in there."
OU will play sixth seeded and 22nd ranked Marquette Monday at 6 p.m. Central.