SAN ANTONIO From near extinction to national title, Oklahoma's amazing rebuilding project just keeps getting better.
Twelve years after the school nearly disbanded a program in disarray, the Sooners earned a shot at their first NCAA championship with a 86-71 win over Duke in the national semifinals Friday night.
Rosalind Ross scored a career-high 26 points, hitting 4-of-8 3-pointers and grabbing 10 rebounds for the Sooners, who rushed out to an early lead and held off Duke's second half rally.
The Sooners (32-3), who were just 5-22 in coach Sherri Coale's first season six years ago, will play Connecticut on Sunday night in the championship game. The top-ranked Huskies beat Tennessee 79-56 in the second semifinal to improve to 38-0.
"This is the moment we've all been waiting for. To get to the Final Four and now we're in the championship game," Ross said in the Sooners' locker room.
"When I came in here, I wanted to cry," she said.
Iciss Tillis scored 19 to lead Duke (31-4), which cut an 18-point deficit to two in the second half but couldn't take the lead before the Sooners pulled away late with a 22-5 run.
The Sooners shot 46 percent from the floor and made 21 of 24 free throws.
The loss snapped Duke's 22-game winning streak. It was the second-longest winning streak in the nation behind UConn.
In 1990, Oklahoma officials had decided to drop the women's basketball program that was drawing only dozens of fans and was expensive to keep. But an outcry from coaches around the country prompted school officials to resurrect it within days.
Fittingly, the Sooners played Friday night in front of 29,619 at the Alamodome Â the largest crowd for a women's college basketball game.
Now, the Sooners will be the first Big 12 team to play for the national title in the league's six-year history.
The women's program also finds itself on par with the men's team, which is also in the Final Four this weekend. Oklahoma is just the third school to send its men's and women's team to national semifinals in the same season.
After the game, Sooners athletic director Joe Castiglione called the Oklahoma men in Atlanta from the women's locker room and the team yelled in unison, "It's your turn now!"
After a slow start, Jamie Talbert hit consecutive layups and Stacey Dales hit a three-pointer from the right wing to give Oklahoma its first lead at 14-13.
The Sooners never trailed again. Dales converted a driving layup to cap a 9-0 Oklahoma run as the Blue Devils went scoreless on eight straight possessions.
"I just felt we had great balance all along the way," said Dales, the All-American who is considered the key player behind OU's resurgence under Coale.
The Sooners were just as good on the other end. Frustrated by Oklahoma's defense, Duke had to slow down its transition into a halfcourt game.
Instead of pushing the ball inside, the Blue Devils started settling for long-range jumpers that seldom found their mark. Duke went just 1-of-11 from the floor in the Sooners' 20-2 run.
"You can tell they have four seniors on the floor most times," said Duke coach Gail Goestenkors.
Duke shot just 39 percent from the floor and committed 16 turnovers.
"We didn't make some of the smartest decisions we've ever made."