By Jeff Latzke, AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY —
At the start of her first year as Tennessee’s head coach, Holly Warlick could not have envisioned how Kamiko Williams would impact her team on the sport’s biggest stage.
On both ends of the court Sunday night, Williams left her imprint to put the Lady Vols one win away from the Final Four.
Williams scored 15 points and led Tennessee’s defense against Oklahoma star Aaryn Ellenberg, leading the Lady Vols to a 74-59 victory in the regional semifinals of the NCAA women’s tournament.
“She’s just taken this team, she’s wrapped her arms around this team and said, ‘Let’s go,”’ Warlick said. “At the beginning of the year, if I had to say Kamiko was going to be our leader, I would say no. But our players love her.”
In the first half, Williams had 13 points, three assists and two steals as second-seeded Tennessee (27-7) opened a 20-point lead.
She also played the lead role in limiting Ellenberg to a 1-for-11 shooting start that didn’t get much better after halftime.
“It’s not a secret. I think Kamiko Williams is an extremely talented young lady,” Warlick said. “When she puts it all together and she gets a great mindset, she can do just about anything.”
Tennessee will face No. 5 seed Louisville, who stunned defending national champion Baylor 82-81Tuesday night in the round of eight.
The Lady Vols have lost in the regional finals the past two seasons and haven’t made it to the Final Four since winning the national title in 2008.
Tennessee also went through an Oklahoma City regional on its way to the championship that season, with Candace Parker leading the way.
Sharane Campbell scored 22 points and Joanna McFarland had 14 for No. 6 seed Oklahoma (24-11), which got an upset to make it to the round of 16, but couldn’t capitalize on a friendly home environment in the Oklahoma City regional. McFarland also matched her career best with 16 rebounds.
About 9 minutes into the game, the Sooners already were down by 11 — having yielded eight straight points — when starting point guard Morgan Hook was tripped up by Meighan Simmons and hit her head on the way down.
She was helped to the bench by a trainer and sat out the rest of the game with concussion-like symptoms.
“That was one of those where you’re like, ‘Really? Really? Seriously?’ After everything, now we’re going to drop another one right here in the Sweet 16?” said Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale, who had managed to guide her team this far despite losing four players to season-ending injuries.
Oklahoma already was down to eight scholarship players after a series of four season-ending injuries, including team captain Whitney Hand’s knee surgery. Two volleyball players were brought in at midseason for practice help.
There simply wasn’t enough firepower to keep up with the deeper SEC regular-season champs, who got 13 points from Cierre Burdick and 12 apiece from Izzy Harrison and Taber Spani while holding the Sooners to 31 percent shooting.
Oklahoma made just 5 of 29 from 3-point range and got just six points from reserves, compared to 30 for the Lady Vols.
“This team has done incredible things this year in the face of situations where most people would just succumb and say, ‘All right, let’s get them next time,”’ Coale said. “Not these guys.”
The Lady Vols dissected Oklahoma’s defense early on, getting easy baskets right under the hoop and putting together a 20-3 run to take control while keeping the Sooners’ hometown crowd from getting involved.
Williams hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to get the run going, and her second layup in the stretch pushed Tennessee’s advantage to 36-16 with 4:54 to go before the half.
Even when the Sooners were able to force eight straight misses to start the second half, they couldn’t dent Tennessee’s lead.
Nicole Griffin and Ellenberg each had baskets during the Lady Vols’ 41⁄2-minute dry spell, but that only got the deficit down to 44-31 before three straight makes pushed it right back up to 19.
The Sooners started the second half 3 for 21 from the field, with Tennessee’s lead growing to 63-35.
“We wanted to set the tempo early and dictate to them that we were going to be the ones pressuring, and then we were trying to get them out of their offense, because they’re a great offensive team when they are able to run their sets,” Spani said.
Ellenberg missed 14 of her first 16 shots, including her first seven 3-point attempts. She made a couple of baskets late to finish with 13 points, but had nowhere near the same impact as she did while averaging 24.5 points in the first two rounds of the tournament.
Simmons, Tennessee’s leading scorer, was 1 for 15 and had just five points, but got much more help.
Harrison also had eight rebounds and three blocks, making her biggest contribution in two injury-plagued months.
She missed nine games in that span, including the SEC tournament, with injuries to both of her knees. Harrison also had eight rebounds and three blocks.