Women’s basketball in Oklahoma may be driven off the Bedlam cliff, too

Women’s basketball in Oklahoma may be driven off the Bedlam cliff, too

The rivalry might just go away. OU is headed to the Southeastern Conference in July, and the only guaranteed Bedlam women’s basketball game of the future is Feb. 24 in Norman. Even OU coach Jennie Baranczyk, who endorsed Bedlam, claims to have no control over the future of the series.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Feb 5, 2024, 1:00pm CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Feb 5, 2024, 1:00pm CST

STILLWATER — Jacie Hoyt grabbed a microphone and walked out to center court Saturday night, just like she does after every home game of her OSU women’s basketball team, and began thanking the fans for a great atmosphere in Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Then she stopped. A small gathering of OU fans in the southwest corner bleachers were making a ruckus, cheering on the victorious Sooners.

Hoyt is not a kindergarten teacher, with the patience to teach an I’ll-wait attitude. Her feistiness got the best of her.

“We can cheer, too!” Hoyt commanded her fans.

And what remained of the Cowgirl congregation indeed responded, with rousing shouts despite an 81-74 Bedlam loss. The OU celebration quickly simmered down, and Hoyt finished off her salute to the fans.

Then 30 minutes later, Hoyt pulled out the rug from under those supporters. She didn’t endorse future Bedlams.

“I haven’t put any thought into that,” Hoyt said, which is hard to believe and disappointing if true. “I’m more on the mindset, I want that crowd when we’re not playing them (the Sooners). That’s what we’re trying to build here.”

Interesting theory, considering a great cloud of witnesses had just praised the Bedlam Series.

OU star Skylar Vann, of Deer Creek, who scored 22 points to lead the Sooners: “This is Bedlam, right? And we’re Okie kids, so this is big for us. Games like this, you never take it lightly. It’s fun every time. It’s awesome. It’s so fun. Bedlam, it’s a big time, it’s a fun time, for all sports.”

OSU newcomer Quincy Noble, a North Texas transfer from the Dallas suburb of McKinney: Losing “sucks. As a competitor, it sucks. I don’t mind losing, but I definitely don’t like losing to OU. It sucks for sure … I felt the rivalry. I felt it. And I’m excited about the next matchup.”

Former Cowgirl, now Sooner Lexy Keys, who was (lightly) booed every time she touched the ball Saturday: “It’s Bedlam. I knew it was going to be intense. There’s a lot of passion behind this whole rivalry. Coming in, I knew that. Obviously, going off a winner, no matter what side you’re on, that’s exciting. It’s Bedlam.”

And OU coach Jenni Baranczyk, who has yet to experience a Bedlam defeat, so we might seek a redirect if and when that happens: “I say this all the time, but I think our main job is to grow the sport of women’s basketball in the state of Oklahoma every day. The crowd was great. There were a ton of people … I think it was a great day for our state, to be honest.”

I’m not sure this was a spectacle worthy of Rodgers and Hammerstein, but it was a dang fun game. An engaged crowd of 5,326. Eleven lead changes. Six ties. Only 25 turnovers total. Twenty-one fast-break points. Decent shooting. Lots of momentum swings and lots of drama.

The high-riding Sooners (now 9-1 in Big 12 play) were challenged by the injury-riddled Cowgirls. OSU led 59-57 after three quarters and 62-61 with eight minutes left in the game.

Then each of OU’s five starters — Nevaeh Tot, Sahara Williams, Payton Vulherst, Keys and Vann — made a basket within a 2½-minute spree, and the Sooners had control. 

But it was terrific theater, from the pregame boos of Keys to the postgame sound fight, a year after Hoyt was rankled that the Sooners didn’t immediately clear the court so OSU could launch Senior Day ceremonies. 

Hoyt remained feisty when talking about the postgame conflict.

“It’s just part of it,” Hoyt said. “Our fans, I wouldn’t trade ‘em. I love the class of our fans. I love the pride. I love the support. After the game, that’s going to come with it. Whatever happened, I don’t even know. I block a lot of stuff out, because I don’t really care.”

She means the opposite, of course.

Meanwhile, Baranczyk was somewhat conciliatory.

“I understood,” Baranczyk said. “We always come over and we huddle, then we go say hi to our parents and say hi to the fans that bused up here, and we just want to be able to wave to them for a second and get out. Then it became something big.

“Which I know it does in football and I know it does in men’s basketball, and today it was women’s basketball. 

“Of course it’s a fun thing. I don’t totally have to hate each other, disrespect each other. We can all just exist.”

Or not. The rivalry might just go away. OU is headed to the Southeastern Conference in July, and the only guaranteed Bedlam women’s basketball game of the future is February 24 in Norman.

Even Baranczyk, who endorsed Bedlam, claims to have no control over the future of the series.

“That is above my paygrade,” Baranczyk said. “If I were going to make the decision — I’m probably not even allowed, I have an administrator behind you (Leah Beasley) telling me to be quiet — I would love to.”

Why, oh why, is this such a touchy subject? Softball, baseball, women’s basketball. One side or the other won’t commit to a future Bedlam.

I mean, we’ve whittled the Bedlam football future to death. It’s not happening, primarily because administrators want maximum home games to fill their coffers and coaches want rumdum opponents to fill their bank accounts.

I know OU screwed up Bedlam by leaving the Big 12. But that doesn’t mean the series should die in every sport. Or any sport.

Give Baranczyk credit. She understands the importance of playing games that people care about.

“Not just for our university. I feel like we’re ambassadors for our sport,” Baranczyk said. “When you looked at how many people came out today for women’s basketball, that’s what we’re trying to grow.

“On a national level, women’s basketball has an all-time high in terms of viewership. We don’t have that in Oklahoma right now. We’ve got to increase that in Oklahoma.”

Baranczyk is right. Time was, Sherri Coale’s Sooners played in front of huge crowds at Lloyd Noble Center. But the Stacy Dales days were a generation ago. Courtney Paris hasn’t played for OU in 15 years. And that memorable Saturday when Bedlam women packed Gallagher-Iba, a sellout crowd of 13,611, and Kurt Budke showed up in the orange sportcoat? Sixteen years ago.

Interest has fallen far down the slope since, and now we’re not even sure we’re going to maintain the state’s No. 1 attraction for women’s basketball.

“Our fans were incredible today,” Hoyt said. “Truly incredible. To get to play in front of a fanbase like that, it’s what people like Q(uincy) and I grow up hoping that we get to play in those types of environments and atmosphere.

“I want what we had today to be the standard. And I want to be really clear that that’s the goal, for that crowd to be the standard here.”

OSU this season has hosted New Orleans, Wyoming, Texas State, Missouri State and both versions of Southern Illinois, the one in Edwardsville and the one in Carbondale. 

You want to build up the brand of women’s basketball? You want to draw big crowds at Gallagher-Iba and Lloyd Noble Center? Start with dumping a Southern Illinois and keeping Bedlam.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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