SEATTLE — Chantel Osahor says she doesn’t remember much about the last time the University of Washington women’s basketball team played the Oklahoma Sooners. She knows the Huskies lost that game last season, and she knows they also lost the year before, and that’s about it.
Her coach, Mike Neighbors, retained a few more details. And he surely will revisit some of them as the No. 3-seeded Huskies prepare for their second-round NCAA tournament matchup against the sixth-seeded Sooners on Monday night at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
“We turned it over late. We had the lead most of the game until the last minute, and then we had a bad turnover that led to a run-out and an ‘and-one’ that really changed the complexion of the game,” Neighbors said, recalling UW’s 71-68 defeat on Dec. 6, 2015. “… But I also thought it was a game that we utilized throughout the rest of the entire year to make our Final Four run. So, kind of one of those, ‘lose the battle to win the war’ games for us.”
That game, Neighbors said, taught the Huskies a valuable lesson en route to the first Final Four appearance in program history, “just in how valuable every possession is. It was the last possession of the game that kind of got magnified because we turned it over and they went and scored late, but there were a few plays earlier in the game, middle of the second quarter they made a little run on us when we could have maybe put them away on the road.”
That loss followed a 90-80 setback in Norman the season prior, the first game of a home-and-home agreement between the two programs.
So, consider Monday’s matchup — with a Sweet 16 bid on the line — a vengeance opportunity. This time, the Huskies are favored to win, fresh off a 91-63 blowout of No. 14-seed Montana State in the first round, and playing in front of what should be another large, loud home crowd.
But they’re facing a Sooners team the Huskies say has improved dramatically in the past two weeks. Oklahoma ended its regular season with a blowout loss to No. 2 Baylor before an 82-58 loss to West Virginia in the Big 12 tournament, but played much better in its first-round NCAA game, 75-62 victory over No. 11-seed Gonzaga.
“Two weeks off with her team in her practice gym is something that none of us want Sherri Coale and her staff to ever have,” Neighbors said, referring to Oklahoma’s longtime head coach. “They look like a different team than what played the last two weeks of her season. It looked like two different teams. I want to tell you right now, that’s a really good Gonzaga team, and I thought they handled them.”
Said Osahor: “They’re very well-coached. They don’t make many mistakes. They run their stuff really well.”
Starting guards Maddie Manning and Peyton Little lead the Sooners in scoring, but the duo is also joined in double-figures by 6-foot-3 center Vionise Pierre-Louis, who averages 12.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game and scored 17 points Saturday against Gonzaga.
The Huskies will defend Pierre-Louis, Neighbors said, in much the same way they defended Brionna Jones in their upset of No. 2-seed Maryland in the second round of last year’s tournament.
“I think we’ll have a variety of matchups on her,” Neighbors said. “We’ll double-team her some on the catch, we’ll double-team her some on the dribble, we won’t double-team her some, we’ll keep her guessing a little bit. That’s it. That’s as specific as you get. We’re going to throw a lot of different looks at her.”