OKLAHOMA CITY — Five seconds remained. The game was in the bag. Against so many odds, No. 6-seed Oklahoma would knock off No. 2-seed UCLA inside Ohio State’s St. John Arena.
Sooner coach Sherri Coale turned and faced her bench. Everybody was on their feet. The celebration had begun. Coale could have jumped into anybody’s arms.
Almost leaping into the embrace, she put her left arm around Whitney Hand and her right arm around Lyndsey Cloman, the two senior captains whose collegiate career’s were cut short on the court even as their influence was not.
On the road to the Sweet 16, Hand and Cloman didn’t play a minute, but Coale could not be more certain “they’re highly responsible for it.”
Cloman tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee during OU’s first exhibition game last season. She recovered from that well enough, but a degenerative disc in her back made returning to the court not an option.
Hand, who tore the ACL in her right knee early in her sophomore season, tore the one in her left knee Dec. 6 against North Texas.
Cloman was to be a valuable presence in the post. Hand had long been the Sooners’ most important player. They could have departed the program, literally or figuratively, and their coach would have understood.
“It would be so easy to be a senior and to have your career taken from you and to just move on,” Coale said. “Maybe not physically, but certainly emotionally, just to salvage your soul, just so you can get by so the wound (of not playing) doesn’t gape every day.”
Cloman nor Hand considered exiting. Now, they and their team are reaping the rewards.
“It’s difficult,” Cloman said. “You spend your whole entire life playing this sport and you can’t (play) … But as a captain, as a teammate, I couldn’t be happier for the girls who are playing.”