Aaryn Ellenberg’s back might be a little sore today. The Oklahoma guard shouldered the load, putting her team on her back with 31 points and nine steals to lead the Sooners to a 65-57 win over No. 23 Kansas State on Tuesday night in Bramlage Coliseum.
Ellenberg, who entered Tuesday as Oklahoma’s leading scorer with 17.3 points per game, ignited the Sooners’ offense early, scoring 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting in the first half, including going 5-of-5 from 3 as Oklahoma took a 33-25 halftime lead.
“She gets going and then there is no telling how long the flood gates might be open,” Oklahoma head coach Sherri Coale said. “Her first half was pretty incredible. I’ll have to look on film, but a couple of those 3-point shots were pretty deep and well contested. She is just a scorer. She scores the ball. That is what she does.”
Oklahoma made 22 shots as a team on the night, with Ellenberger making 11 of those field goals.
“Ellenberg got the hot hand early with the 3-pointer,” K-State head coach Deb Patterson said. “The easy three looks that we gave were not indicative of how we have defended through the course of the year. Tonight we opened the door, and great players go right through it. I think (Ellenberg) got her confidence up and continued to find ways to put pressure on our defense.”
As good as Ellenberg was on offense, her defense was what made the ultimate difference, Coale said. Her nine steals were a Bramlage-Coliseum record. Ellenberg had three steals at the half but turned it on in the game’s final 13 minutes.
With K-State trailing 39-38, Ellenberg recorded a steal and hit a jumper at the other end to push the lead to three. Over a four-minute span, from 13:01 to the 8:51-mark on the clock, she recorded five steals, and every one of those steals resulted in points at the other end of the court for the Sooners, sparking a 13-4 run to give Oklahoma a 52-42 lead.
“Unbelievable, I thought those steals were the difference in the game,” Coale said. “They broke Kansas State’s rhythm and allowed us to get some freebies, gave us a little bit of breathing room. It gave us a great amount of confidence. (Aaryn) is a fantastic athlete as you can tell, superb instincts. Now the only problem with this is I am going to expect her to get that amount of steals every time we play.”
Patterson said Ellenberg’s defensive effort was significant in deciding the outcome.”
“Ellenberg had a great feel of when we were going to over-penetrate,” she said. “We were so uncertain of what we were looking for on the offensive end from possession to possession.
“We have got to be better prepared because our decisions seemed so out of character. Ellenberg was reading any opportunity for a steal. Any over-penetration, she was going to have a hand in on it. If we were soft on the on-ball defense, she was right there.
“I feel like we almost had a full house of turnovers. It was like a buffet of turnovers, and she was ready and able to secure (the ball), as was her basketball team.”