Oklahoma fritters away most of lead before sending away James Madison

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Oklahoma hopes its long road is just beginning.

It sure was bumpy at the start.

Whitney Hand scored 24 points and the Sooners blew much of a 19-point second-half lead before holding on to beat James Madison 86-72 in the first round of the NCAA tournament Sunday.

The Dukes pulled within 74-68 with 2:56 to play, then had Dawn Evans open for a 3-pointer that would have halved the margin. But Evans missed badly, and Danielle Robinson made a layup and then a three-point play and the Sooners were finally able to take a breath.

"We just had to think about poise and being experienced," Robinson said of her team, which made it all the way to the Final Four in the past two seasons. "It was all about taking a deep breath and trusting each other and trusting the system we've played with all year."

Robinson added 19 points for the Sooners (22-11), which will play Miami on Tuesday.

Hand matched her career high, hitting 8 of 14 attempts from the field.

"I felt like our offense was as easy as it's been all year," she said.

Robinson noticed her hot-handed teammate, too, and started looking for her.

"You can tell her rhythm was so much better all week in practice," Robinson said. "When she starts off like that, you know she's going to be trouble for the other team."

The opposite was true for Evans. The nation's No. 3 scorer with a 23.2 average, she led the Dukes with 20 points, but hit just 7 of 27 shots and was 0 for 11 on 3-point attempts.

"The unfortunate thing is that those nights happen," Evans said after her final college game. "It just so happened to be on the night we needed it most. It was extremely frustrating."

James Madison (26-8) was bidding for its first NCAA tournament victory since the 1991 team beat top-ranked Penn State in the second round in State College, Pa.

The Dukes had no answer for the speed, quickness and size of the Sooners until late.

Aaryn Ellenberg added 17 points for Oklahoma and Joanna McFarland had 10 with 15 rebounds.

Tarik Hislop added 16 points and Lauren Jimenez had 14 for James Madison.

The Sooners led 41-28 at halftime and started the second half with a 12-6 burst.

Trailing by as many as 19, the Dukes got within 71-61 when Courtney Hamner made a steal and layup with 5:23 to play, but Ellenberg was fouled, made the first and McFarland grabbed the rebound for the Sooners. Hand then scored and had a chance for a three-point play, but missed and again McFarland came away with the rebound. The Dukes rebounded when Robinson missed.

Jimenez hit a 3-pointer for JMU with 4:13 to go, making it 74-64, and after another miss by the Sooners, Ellenberg fouled Evans with 3:32 remaining. She made the second foul shot, and when Jalissa Taylor blocked Ellenberg at the other end, Evans was fouled making a lefty layup.

Her free throw to finish the three-point play pulled the Dukes to 74-68 with 2:56 to go.

"We got panicky," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said, taking the blame for slowing her team down. "We thought about everything too much. We're better when we just keep going."

A turnover by Robinson gave the Dukes a chance to get closer, but Evans' 3-pointer missed badly, and Robinson scored at the other end. Her three-point play with 1:43 left sealed it.

The game marked the end of Evans' remarkable college career. She's played most of the last two seasons with a rare kidney disease, focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, which likely will cause her to require a kidney transplant in the future, and still became the career scoring leader in the Colonial Athletic Association while leading the Dukes to back-to-back titles.

"It's bittersweet, because my body needs the rest, but you never really want it to end," she said. She finished with 2,601 career points and a slew of other career marks at JMU.

The loss also could thrust coach Kenny Brooks into the speculation spotlight with Virginia and Virginia Tech, both in the higher powered Atlantic Coast Conference, looking for a coach.