Ranking every starter left in Sweet 16

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With the Sweet 16 starting, I decided that it was officially time to rank the players left in the NCAA tournament field.

The criteria was simple: If the starters for every team in the tournament got thrown into a pot and 16 of us were asked to draft teams to win four games and cut down the nets in Minneapolis, this would be my big board.

1. Zion Williamson, Duke: He’s the best and most unstoppable player in college basketball. Who else would I put at No. 1?

2. De’Andre Hunter, Virginia: He may not be the best prospect in the tournament, but for my money he is the second-best player in all of college basketball right now. He’s the best defender in the sport and a 44.6% three-point shooter that doubles as UVA’s leading scorer.

3. R.J. Barrett, Duke: Barrett is currently averaging 22.8 points, 7.7 boards and 4.1 assists for Duke. The only other player to put up 22-7-4 for a high-major team since 1992 was Anfernee Hardaway, and that was when Memphis was in the Great Midwest Conference. Barrett did this in the ACC.

4. Grant Williams, Tennessee: Williams has made a habit of absolutely taking games over in crunch time. He did it in Tennessee’s win over Kentucky in the SEC tournament. He did it in the final minutes and in overtime against Iowa. He did it against Vanderbilt in another overtime win. And that’s just off the top of my head. He may be the guy you want with the ball in all of the Sweet 16.

5. Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech: Culver is one of the most improved players in college basketball this season, embracing the role of the go-to offensive weapon for a Red Raider team that is one of the most dangerous left in this tournament. He’ll be a top ten pick in June.

(Harry How/Getty Images)

6. Cassius Winston, Michigan State: No one in college basketball carries a bigger load offensively than Winston does for Michigan State. Look at the Michigan State, roster and think about this: They won a share of the Big Ten regular season title, they beat Michigan three times and they won the Big Ten tournament title. He’s unbelievable.

7. Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga: Clarke is the best player on Gonzaga, and I hope people are starting to realize it. He’s been their best defender since day one, but after a 36 point explosion in the second round, he’s averaging 17.0 points and shooting 69.9 percent from the floor. His PER would set a collegiate record if Zion Williamson didn’t exist.

8. P.J. Washington, Kentucky: When he’s healthy and playing well, he can be one of the five best players in college basketball. We don’t know if he’s healthy, and he’s had more games this season where he wasn’t playing well than when he was.

9. Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga: Gonzaga’s leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, Rui is a monster than can take games over. If he was as good defensively as Clarke is, he’d be the No. 1 pick in the draft.

10. Ty Jerome, Virginia: As weird as this sounds given the way that Virginia has flamed out of the tournament over the years, I trust Jerome to make big shots in big moments more than just about any other lead guard left.

11. Coby White, North Carolina
12. Cam Johnson, North Carolina: While Johnson has been North Carolina’s most consistent and, arguably, their best player throughout the season, White is the guy that is the most dangerous player on the roster playing the position that is the least replaceable for the Heels.

13. Carsen Edwards, Purdue: Edwards can be unbelievable when he gets into a rhythm. Just ask Villanova, who caught 42 points from him on Sunday. But prior to that outburst, he had spent the last six weeks being a high-volume, low-efficiency gunner.

14. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech
15. Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech: I’d personally make the argument that Alexander-Walker is the better player of the two, but I think that Robinson is probably more valuable because his presence allows Alexander-Walker to play off the ball, where he has been more effective.

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

16. Mfiondu Kabengele, Florida State: I know he doesn’t actually start, but he’s far and away the best and most talented player on Florida State’s roster. He leads them in scoring at 13.4 points and averages 5.4 boards and 1.5 blocks while shooting 38% from three as a 6-foot-11 center. He’s a monster.

17. Zavier Simpson, Michigan: If we’re talking about winners, we’re talking about Zavier Simpson, who will take away anyone’s best perimeter scorer while finishing the game with a line of, say, nine points, nine boards, nine assists and a pair of running sky-hooks across the lane. He’s a different dude.

18. Payton Pritchard, Oregon: Pritchard has been terrific over the course of the last month, and he’s developed the reputation in basketball circles of being a winner. He also leads Oregon is scoring and assists.

19. Tremont Waters, LSU: It’s hard not to love what Waters has been this season, sharing the offensive load with a roster that has plenty of talent on it. He’s a ball-screen maestro that is the biggest reason that the Tigers have been so good in close games.

20. Jared Harper, Auburn: The best point guard that you haven’t seen play this season. He is the engine that makes Auburn’s high-powered transition game operate, and he’s not afraid to dunk on you.

21. Luke Maye, North Carolina: Maye has not had a great season adjusting to a bit of a different role this year, but he’s still averaging 14.9 points, 10.6 boards and 2.3 assists.

22. Terance Mann, Florida State: So underrated. He’s the heart and soul of this Florida State team, an elite perimeter defender that can get out in transition. He is also shooting 41.1% from three this year.

23. Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan: Iggy is Michigan’s leading scorer and one of their best three-point shooters, but mostly he is just an ultra-competitive combo-forward that loves attacking the rim and thrives off opponents and opposing crowds talking junk to him.

24. Cam Reddish, Duke: Reddish is a plus defender on the wing and a streaky scorer that can make threes and, in theory, will be better once he is on a team where he is more of a focal point.

25. Kyle Guy, Virginia: He might just be the best shooter left in the tournament. When he gets it going, he can make six or seven in a game, and he’s a better defender than most realize.

26. Admiral Schofield, Tennessee: A versatile defender that averages 16.4 points and shoots 41.5% from three, Schofield is the guy that lets Tennessee switch between big lineups and small lineups.

27. Charles Matthews, Michigan: Quite possibly the best perimeter defender in college basketball, he has regressed a bit on the offensive end of the floor this season.

28. Tyler Herro, Kentucky: If Washington is out, Herro is going to have to be the guy that steps up against a Houston team that will double team Reid Travis out of the game. He’s more than just a shooter, but he can also be prone to off-nights.

29. Kerry Blackshear, Virginia Tech: Blackshear is one of the most underrated big men in all of college basketball. He averages 14.9 points, 7.3 boards, 2.3 assists and shoots 34.4% from three. He’s the guy that does all the screening in Buzz Williams’ ball-screen heavy offense.

30. Corey Davis, Houston: Davis is a big-time shot-maker and the leading scorer for a Houston team that can really, really play. When he gets hot, he can hit six or seven threes in one night.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

31. Skylar Mays, LSU: Mays has been so underrated this season. He’s LSU’s third-leading scorer, but he’s taken over in multiple big games this season and has had a knack for making big shots all season long.

32. Jon Teske, Michigan: Teske is an elite defensive center than has developed a really nice rapport with Simpson in ball-screen actions.

33. Bryce Brown, Auburn: Brown may not be the ‘best’ shooter left in the tournament, but I think that he’s the most dangerous. When he gets hot, he can reel off 20 points and five or six straight threes in one half.

34. Josh Perkins, Gonzaga: Perkins’ role offensively is massive, and he really can be one of the best ball-screen point guards in the country. But Perkins also has some games where he forgets how to play, and it’s cost Gonzaga in March in recent years.

35. Naz Reid, LSU: Reid is a 6-foot-10 monster that crushes teams on the glass and bangs home threes, but he’s inconsistent and has tried to play defense on roughly 27 possessions this season.

36. Kenny Wooten, Oregon: The second-coming of Jordan Bell. I told you in October that Oregon will be better with Wooten at the five, and that’s come to fruition after Bol Bol’s injury.

37. Chuma Okeke, Auburn: Okeke is a 6-foot-8, 230 pound combo-forward that averages 11.8 points, 6.7 boards, 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks while shooting 38% from three. He’s a perfect fit in modern basketball, and one of the reasons that Auburn’s style of play works.

38. Mamadi Diakite, Virginia: Diakite is an absolute monster on the defensive end that has seen his effectiveness offensively start to tick up during this tournament. It’s gotta be the hair.

39. Zach Norvell, Gonzaga: Norvell is a streaky shooter, but when he’s hot, he might be the most dangerous shooter in all of college hoops. He is the ultimate heat check.

40. Matt Mooney, Texas Tech: Mooney is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and he’s slowly developed into a real threat on the offensive end. He’s Tech’s second most creative player after Culver, and his improvement late in the year took the pressure of their star.

41. Matt McQuaid, Michigan Starte: McQuaid has actually developed into a really good role player for the Spartans. He’s become their best perimeter defender, he’s their secondary ball-handler and he’s shooting 43.3% from three.

42. Jordan Bone, Tennessee: He’s a bit frustrating. When he’s good, he can win a game all by himself. When he’s not playing well, he’ll pass the ball to the other team four times in one half. Just ask Iowa.

43. Keldon Johnson, Kentucky: Johnson carried Kentucky early on in the season, but as teams started to figure out what he can do offensively, it got more difficult for him. He’s still dangerous, and like Herro, he will need to be if Kentucky is going to advance.

44. Ryan Cline, Purdue: Cline has had an underrated season. He is Purdue’s second-leading scorer and is shooting 40.6% from three on better than seven threes per game.

45. Tariq Owens, Texas Tech: Owens is everything that you want out of a five in modern basketball. He’s an elite rim-protector and lob-catcher than can move his feet a bit on the perimeter and makes a jumper now and again. His value doesn’t lie in his numbers.

46. Armoni Brooks, Houston: Brooks is the second-leading scorer for the Cougars, the guy that Kelvin Sampson loves to run off screens and get open for threes.

47. Louis King, Oregon: King is a former five-star recruit that missed six games at the start of the season through injury, but he’s starting to show just what made him such a valued recruit. He’s averaging 12.9 points this season and shooting 37.1% from three.

48. Jordan Poole, Michigan: Poole can shoot Michigan into any game. He can also shoot them out of any game, and he is a total liability defensively.

49. Kenny Goins, Michigan State: Goins averaging 8.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.3 apg and 1.4 bpg. I don’t understand how he’s as good as he is, but he’s really, really good.

50. Kavell Bigby-Williams, LSU: Bigby-Williams is a massive, massive human being that does well protecting the rim and overpowers people on the offensive glass.

51. Kenny Williams, North Carolina: He is UNC’s best perimeter defender and a guy that plays a 3-and-D role even if he’s not really shooting the ball all that well right now.

52. Reid Travis, Kentucky: Travis is such a good rebounder and he can be a really effective scorer in the post, but he learned pretty quickly that like in the Pac-12 is different than life in the SEC.

53. Davide Moretti, Texas Tech: Moretti is just a lights-out shooter, shooting 45.4% from three on the season and finishing the year as Tech’s second-leading scorer.

54. Nojel Eastern, Purdue: Eastern is not much on the offensive end of the floor, but he is an absolute lockdown defender.

55. Tre Jones, Duke: He’s quite possibly the best on-ball defender in college basketball right now, and that matters. He’s also a total and complete liability on the offensive end that teams just do not guard.

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

56. Ashton Hagans, Kentucky: He is a monster defender at the point of attack that can get lost off the ball defensively and has had his ups and downs offensively throughout the year.

57. Lamonte Turner, Tennessee: Turner has bounced between the bench and the starting lineup for the Vols, but the thing I love about him is that the kid has the stones to take and make big shots. He’s not always great, but even when he’s struggling, you want him on the floor in big moments.

58. Galen Robinson, Houston: Robinson is Houston’s starting point guard and is one of those guys that leaves coaches saying “he played a great floor game.”

59. Anfernee McLemore, Auburn: McLemore is a really important piece for the Tigers, as he is one of their best rim-protectors, but he can also space the floor and thrives as a rim-runner in ball-screens. He’ll catch at least one lob against North Carolina.

60. Corey Kispert, Gonzaga: Kispert is just a solid role player. He can defend, he has some athleticism, he makes threes, he can attack a closeout. I think he has a shot to be WCC Player of the Year in a season or two.

61. Trent Forrest, Florida State: He can’t shoot at all, but he is Florida State’s third-leading scorer, one of their best passers and quite possibly their best perimeter defender. I believe we call those ‘glue guys’.

62. Xavier Tillman, Michigan State: This could also be Nick Ward, who hasn’t been starting after coming back from his hand injury. Ward is the better low-post scorer and rim-runner. Tillman is a better rebounder and defender.

63. Paul White, Oregon: The fifth-year senior is really thriving while playing in the small-ball four role for the Ducks.

64. M.J. Walker, Florida: I want Walker to be better than he has been in his Florida State career, but at this point he’s mostly just an athletic defender that can pop up for a 15 point game now and then.

65. Aaron Henry, Michigan State: Henry has a really, really bright future at Michigan State, but right now he’s a raw freshman that plays really hard and makes soe mistakes.

66. Ahmed Hill, Virginia Tech: A super-athletic, streaky shot-maker that can seemingly go a month without making a shot before ripping off four or five threes in a game.

67. Norense Odiase, Texas Tech: The big fella doesn’t play a ton of minutes, as Tech tends to prefer small-ball late in games, but he’s a bully on the glass, especially on the offensive end.

68. Kyle Alexander, Tennessee: Alexander is a good defensive center that seems to find himself in foul trouble every time Tennessee plays a big game. It’s hard to rank someone too high when they can’t consistently stay on the court.

69. Garrison Brooks, North Carolina: Brooks gets the majority of the minutes at the five for UNC this season, and he’s been fine doing it. He can score around the rim and he’s a pretty effective rebounder.

70. Ty Outlaw, Virginia Tech: The best shooter on the best shooting team left in the tournament.

71. Marlon Taylor, LSU: LSU’s stopper. He’s a highlight reel athlete that doesn’t do much else.

72. Malik Dunbar, Auburn: Dunbar has been starting for Auburn, but their best lineups tend to feature Samir Doughty.

73. Matt Haarms, Purdue: Haarms has been in and out of the starting lineup for Purdue, but when he’s in there he has been effective as a rim-running, rim-protecting five.

74. Breaon Brady, Houston
75. Fabian White, Houston: The Cougars as a four-man frontcourt rotation, and all four of their big uglies are fine. These two start.

76. Javin DeLaurier, Duke: DeLaurier is a good rebounder and a fine shot-blocker, but he is not all that much more than those two things.

77. Kihei Clark, Virginia: I understand why he plays so much (it moves Jerome off the ball) and the kid is a tough defender that has won everywhere he’s been, but he’s also 5-foot-nothin’ and shoots just 32.9% from three.

78. Grady Eifert, Purdue: Eifert is one of the most efficient players in all of college basketball because he doesn’t shoot much, but when he does, he’s banging home open threes. He does his job well.

79. Francis Okoro, Oregon: He starts but Oregon is at their best when Ehab Amin and Will Richardson are on the floor.

80. Raiquan Gray, Florida State: Gray is Mr. Irrelevant, but the reason for that is that he is not the usual starter. That would be Phil Cofer, who was battling an injury before his father passed away. Cofer would be somewhere in the 40s on my list.

Gardner, Beekman lift No. 8 Virginia past No. 22 N.C. State

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Virginia coach Tony Bennett had a simple message for his team after a poor defensive performance in a loss at Virginia Tech.

“Talk is cheap. Do it. Show us, to our players, to us as a staff, show up, work in practice, step to between the lines and don’t lose yourself in anything but what your job is,” Bennett said he told his players and assistants in the two days of practice since the 74-68 loss.

The team clearly got the message.

Jayden Gardner scored 18 points, Reece Beekman added 15 and No. 8 Virginia cooled off red-hot No. 22 North Carolina State 63-50 on Tuesday night.

“We had a great two days before State, you know, preparation and just diving in,” Gardner said. “It’s just this is the time of the season we need to lock in and you know, we’re playing for something. … We’re trying to win a championship.”

The Cavaliers (18-4, 10-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) handed the Wolfpack (19-6, 9-5) their second loss in 10 games and moved into a share of first place in the conference with Clemson and Pittsburgh.

The Wolfpack arrived leading the ACC with an average of 79.6 points and were 19-2 when scoring at least 70, but became the 38th consecutive league opponent held below 70 points at John Paul Jones Arena.

“Obviously, as I watched the Virginia Tech game and knew that those guys dropped the game and, you know, any time you’re going to play a very good defensive team on their home floor, you know you’re going to get that energy,” North Carolina State coach Kevin Keatts said.

Terquavion Smith led N.C. State with 19 points and Casey Morsell, who spent his first two seasons at Virginia and was jeered nearly every time he touched the ball in his first game back, had 18 points before fouling out in the final minute.

Jarkel Joiner, the Wolfpack’s No. 2 scorer at 16.2 points per game, missed 12 of his 14 shots and scored five points. D.J. Burns Jr. (eight points) was the only other Wolfpack player to score.

Reserve forward Kadin Shedrick, who did not play in Virginia’s loss at Virginia Tech on Saturday, had 10 points and six rebounds for the Cavaliers.

Virginia scored the first six points of the second half to open its largest lead at 40-20, but the Wolfpack began whittling away, fueled by a 12-6 burst in which Smith and Morsell each hit a pair of 3-pointers.

“In the past, we’ve been able to control the tempo and to get those guys to play a little bit faster and even turn them over,” said Keatts, whose team had won three of the last four meetings. “But we couldn’t.”

N.C. State twice closed within nine points but got no closer. Morsell’s 3 made it 55-46 with 3:46 to play, but Beekman made a free throw and then took a no-look pass from Kihei Clark for an easy backdoor layup.

Virginia closed the first half on an 8-2 run to lead 34-20 at the break. The Wolfpack missed 10 straight shots before Burns scored just before the half.

BIG PICTURE

N.C. State: The Wolfpack got scoring from just three players – Smith with nine points, Morsell with seven and Burns with four – in the opening half. They shot 25.8% with Smith going 4 for 13 and Joiner 0 for 6. … Burns picked up his third personal foul less than a minute into the second half after getting the ball stolen by Beekman. He stayed in the game and drew his fourth foul on a drive by Clark with 16:03 left.

Virginia: Beekman started the game ranking first in the ACC in assist/turnover ratio (3.0) and third in assists (5.1). He had four assists and one turnover. Clark started first in assists (6.0) and second in assist/turnover ratio (2.8). He had six assists and three turnovers.

UP NEXT

N.C. State: At Boston College on Saturday.

Virginia: Hosts Duke on Saturday.

Michigan St. rallies to win after giving up lead to Maryland

Maryland v Michigan State
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EAST LANSING, Mich. – Joey Hauser scored 20 points and Tyson Walker had 17 and Michigan State rallied after scoring the game’s first 15 points to beat Maryland 63-58 on Tuesday.

A.J. Hoggard had 10 rebounds and eight assists for Michigan State.

Jahmir Young scored 17 points for Maryland, Hakim Hart 12, Julian Reese 11 and Donta Scott 10 for the Terrapins.

The Spartans (15-9, 7-6 Big Ten) used an 8-0 run in which Walker made a layup and 3-pointer wrapped around a 3 from Jaden Akins for a 52-48 lead with 7:44 remaining and Michigan State led for the remainder.

The Terrapins erupted for a 12-0 run in less than three minutes in the second half turning a 38-26 deficit into a 38-all tie. Young and Hart posted back-to-back three-point plays, and Hart’s 3-pointer with 13:01 knotted it at 38. Prior to that 3, Hart was 3-for-last-27 shooting from beyond the arc. Maryland finished shooting 3 of 22 from distance.

Michigan State started the game with a 15-0 run and led 31-22 at halftime. Coming off an 81-46 win over Maryland (16-8, 7-6 Big Ten) on Saturday, the Terrapins have yet to win back-to-back contests in almost three years.

The Terrapins host Penn State on Saturday. Michigan State travels to play Ohio State on Sunday.

Arkansas pulls away from Kentucky in 2nd half, wins 88-73

Arkansas v Kentucky
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LEXINGTON, Ky. – Ricky Council IV scored 20 points, Anthony Black had 19 and Arkansas used a blazing second half to pull away and beat Kentucky 88-73 on Tuesday night, giving coach Eric Musselman his 200th collegiate victory.

Black added five assists and five steals. Makhel Mitchell and Davonte Davis scored 15 points each and Jordan Walsh 13 for the Razorbacks (17-7, 6-5 SEC) who have won five straight conference games, including three in a row. It was Arkansas’ third straight win over the Wildcats (16-8, 7-4). The teams meet again in Fayetteville in a regular-season finale on March 4.

Cason Wallace scored 24 points to lead Kentucky, which had won six straight conference games. Chris Livingston added 13 points and Jacob Toppin and Antonio Reeves 11 each.

After a first half with 11 lead changes, there were none in the second when Arkansas shot 72% and Council and Black combined for 25 points.

Three steals, including two by Black who turned them into consecutive dunks, fueled an 11-3 run to begin the second half for a 52-43 lead. A basket by Black made it a double-digit lead with eight minutes left as the Razorbacks sank 7 of 9 over that span to finish the game. They made 8 of 10 free throws over the final two minutes.

Kentucky coach John Calipari was given a technical foul with 33 seconds left in the first half. Black sank the resulting free throws for a three-point lead before Daimion Collins’ midrange jumper made it 41-40 at halftime.

Both teams shot over 50% in the first half with Wallace leading all scorers with 11 points. Kentucky dipped under 50% for the game while Arkansas finished at 63% and outscored the Wildcats 46-28 in the paint.

Arkansas is home against Mississippi State and Kentucky is at Georgia, both games on Saturday.

Tulane secures 101-94 OT win over Cincinnati

Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW ORLEANS – Kevin Cross and Jalen Cook scored 27 points each as Tulane took down Cincinnati 101-94 in overtime on Tuesday night.

Cross added 15 rebounds and six assists for the Green Wave (16-7, 9-3 American Athletic Conference). Cook added 14 assists. Jaylen Forbes scored 24 points and shot 6 for 15 (3 for 6 from 3-point range) and 9 of 9 from the free throw line.

Landers Nolley II finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists for the Bearcats (16-9, 7-5). Ody Oguama added 16 points and 13 rebounds for Cincinnati. In addition, David Dejulius finished with 12 points, eight assists and three steals.

Tulane entered halftime down 37-28. Cross paced the team in scoring in the first half with 10 points. Forbes scored 18 second-half points and hit the game-tying 3-pointer with 1:02 remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime.

Tulane scored seven unanswered points to break a tie and lead with 42 seconds left in overtime.

No. 16 Oklahoma women take 1st lead in OT, rally past Baylor

Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman
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WACO, Texas – Ana Llanusa and Skylar Vann each scored 20 points and No. 16 Oklahoma took its first lead of the game in overtime before rallying past Baylor 98-92 on Tuesday night.

The Sooners trailed for 39 minutes in regulation and were down 75-63 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Baylor turned it over twice on inbounds plays in the closing seconds of regulation and Taylor Robertson tied at 83-all on a wide-open 3-pointer with 14 seconds left.

Llanusa started overtime with a 3-pointer, and she finished with eight points during the extra session. Baylor never led in overtime, shooting 2 of 6.

Robertson, who tied Danielle Robinson’s program record of 140 starts, finished with 14 points and three 3s for Oklahoma (19-4, 9-3 Big 12), which trails Texas (18-6, 9-2) in the hunt for its first conference title since 2009. Nevaeh Tot added 13 points, Liz Scott added 11 points and eight rebounds and Madi Williams had nine points, 10 rebounds and four assists.

The Sooners, the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense at 86.5 points per game, have scored at least 88 points 14 times this season, seven in conference.

Caitlin Bickle scored a career-high 30 points with four 3s and Sarah Andrews added 20 points for Baylor (16-7, 7-4). Freshman Darianna Littlepage-Buggs had 14 points and 17 rebounds and Ja’Mee Asberry scored 11. Jaden Owens had 14 of Baylor’s 25 assists on 32 field goals.

Bickle was 8 of 11 from the field, including 4 of 7 from distance, and Littlepage-Buggs recorded her sixth double-double in the last seven games.

It was the first time in 20 years the Sooners were ranked in game against an unranked Bears squad. Oklahoma continues its road trip at Kansas State on Sunday. Baylor plays at Oklahoma State on Saturday.