SAN ANTONIO - Twelve years ago, the University of Oklahoma attempted to eliminate women's basketball because of lack of interest and to save money.
Six years later, in a move that some might have considered raising the white flag, the school hired Sherri Coale, a Norman High School coach, to lead the Sooners.
Sometimes, the move you don't make is borne out by the one you make later, and as a result, Oklahoma beat Duke, 86-71, in a national semifinal last night at the Alamodome.
"I'm really proud of these guys not just for the win, but because this really had our signature on it. They played with the stamp of Oklahoma basketball, which is they played together," Coale said.
The Sooners (32-3), in their first trip to the Final Four in school history, put on an impressive display of offense and were splendid on defense in keeping Duke All-America guard Alana Beard off-balance throughout.
Oklahoma senior guard Rosalind Ross saw to it personally that school president David Boren will have to keep the school jet gassed up in order to shuttle between Final Fours this weekend (the Sooners men play Indiana in Atlanta tonight). She scored a career-high 26 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
Ross' wide-open three-pointer with 3:27 to go effectively choked off the last chance Duke had, after the Blue Devils (31-4) had nearly erased a 17-point deficit.
"This is what I've always wanted for myself," said Ross, who averages 10.7 points a game. "I've always wanted to play for the national championship. I refuse to just not put my all into something. My teammates were so cool and calm. We all look out for each other. That's what Stacey [Dales] did with her assists and LaNeisha [Caufield] did with her defense. We played so good together that Duke couldn't overcome it. I just wanted to make sure that I left all my heart on the floor."
Dales, the team's All-America senior point guard, had a game-high five assists and 17 points. Caufield, another senior and the defensive stopper, limited Beard, the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, to a 6-for-15 field-goal shooting night - only five shots in the second half.
But Ross, who has had major surgery on her right knee, was the factor for which Duke could not account.
"As a fellow player, you only hope that your coach would bring in people with huge hearts, people with a lot of belief," said Dales. "I don't know of anyone with a bigger heart than Rosalind Ross. She provides so much for us in any given game. If we're lacking in points, she fills that void.
"If we need a defensive assignment, she fills that void. She gets overshadowed a great deal, because LaNeisha and I get a lot of attention. You can't neglect Rosalind. She plays on one leg and if I had to pick the toughest person, there's no doubt in my mind, it's Rosalind Ross."
The Blue Devils, who came in on a 22-game winning streak, opened on a 13-7 roll, as Beard hit a three-pointer and converted on a three-point play in the spurt.
From there, the Sooners responded with a 12-0 run to regain control.
Dales hit a pair of threes on consecutive possessions early in the second half to give Oklahoma its biggest lead of the game, 54-37, but Duke steadily climbed back into the contest, as center Iciss Tillis, a Tulsa native who escaped Coale's grasp, found her touch. After shooting 1-for-7 in the first half, Tillis scored 10 points in a 25-10 Blue Devils' run that closed the gap to 64-62 with 7:48 to go.
But Oklahoma junior Caton Hill hit a three on the left wing on the ensuing possession, to launch a decisive 16-3 burst, punctuated by Ross' wide-open trey on the left wing with 3:27 remaining.
"I just give Oklahoma all the credit in the world," said Duke coach Gail Goestenkors. "They played an excellent game. They played the same way I've been watching them play on tape for the last week, and they do a great job sharing the basketball. They played like a veteran team."
OKLAHOMA-Hill 5-11 3-3 14, Talbert 3-5 2-2 8, Ross 7-14 8-10 26, Caufield 4-13 4-4 12, Dales 6-13 2-2 17, Jackson 3-4 2-2 9, Selmon 0-0 0-0 0, Simon 0-0 0-0 0, Shoush 0-1 0-0 0, Casey 0-0 0-1 0, Luce 0-0 0-0 0, Scott 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-61 21-24 86.
DUKE-Matyasovsky 3-5 0-0 6, Currie 3-10 2-2 8, Tillis 8-20 2-4 19, Krapohl 1-2 0-0 3, Beard 6-15 2-2 15, Gingrich 1-6 0-0 3, Mosch 1-4 1-2 3, Whitley 5-11 4-4 14. Totals 28-73 11-14 71.
Half-Oklahoma, 40-28. 3-point goals-Oklahoma 9-25 (Ross 4-8, Dales 3-8, Jackson 1-1, Hill 1-5, Shoush 0-1, Caufield 0-2), Duke 4-20 (Krapohl 1-2, Beard 1-4, Gingrich 1-4, Tillis 1-4, Matyasovsky 0-1, Mosch 0-1, Whitley 0-4). Fouled out-Beard. Rebounds-Oklahoma 43 (Ross 10), Duke 38 (Tillis 9). Assists-Oklahoma 15 (Dales 5), Duke 19 (Beard 5). Total fouls-Oklahoma 14, Duke 18. A-29,619.